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THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 




MRS. JOHN VAN VORST AS "ESTHER KELLY' 
Wearing the costume of the pickle factory 




AIISS MARIE VAN VORST AS " BELL BALLARD" 
At work in a shoe factory 



The Woman Who 

Toils 



*Being the Experiences of Two Gentlewomen 
as Factory Girls 

BY 

MRS. JOHN VAN VORST and 
MARIE VAN VORST 



ILLUSTRATED 




NEW YORK : 

DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY 
1903 




Copyright, 1902, 1903, by 

John Wanamaker 

Copyright, 1903, by 

Doubleday, Paje & Company 

Published, February, 1903 



I/. 



DEDICATION 



In loving tribute to his genius, and 
to his human sympathy, which in 
Pathos and Seriousness, as well as 
in Mirth and Humour, have made 
him kin with the whole world : 

this book is inscribed by 
BESSIE and MARIE VAN VORST. 



PREFATORY LETTER FROM THEODORE 
ROOSEVELT 

Written after reading Chapter HI. when published serially 

WHITE HOUSE, WASHINGTON, October 18, 1902. 
My Dear Mrs. Van Vorst: 

I must write you a line to say how much I have appre- 
ciated your article, "The Woman Who Toils." But to 
me there is a most melancholy side to it, when you touch 
upon what is fundamentally infinitely more important 
than any other question in this country that is, the ques- 
tion of race suicide, complete or partial. 

An easy, good-natured kindliness, and a desire to be 
"independent" that is, to live one's life purely according 
to one's own desires are in no sense substitutes for the 
fundamental virtues, for the practice of the strong, racial 
qualities without which there can be no strong races the 
qualities of courage and resolution in both men and women, 
of scorn of what is mean, base and selfish, of eager desire to 
work or fight or suffer as the case may be provided the end 
to be gained is great enough, and the contemptuous putting 
aside of mere ease, mere vapid pleasure, mere avoidance 
of toil and worry. I do not know whether I most pity or 
most despise the foolish and selfish man or woman who 
does not understand that the only things really worth having 

vii 



viii PREFATORY LETTER 

in life are those the acquirement of which normally means 
cost and effort. If a man or woman, through no fault~of 
his or hers, goes throughout life denied those highest of all 
C joys which spring only from home life, from the having 
l^,and bringing up of many healthy children, I feel for them 
deep and respectful sympathy the sympathy one extends 
to the gallant fellow killed at the beginning of a campaign, 
or the man who toils hard and is brought to ruin by the 
fault of others. But the man or woman who deliberately 
avoids marriage, and has a heart so cold as to know no 
passion and a brain so shallow and selfish as to dislike- 
having children, is in effect a criminal against the race, 
and should be an object of contemptuous abhorrence by all 
healthy people. $ 

Of course no one quality makes a good citizen, and no 
one quality will save a nation. But there are certain great 
qualities for the lack of which no amount of intellectual 
brilliancy or of material prosperity or of easiness of life 
can atone t and which show decadence and corruption in 
the nation just as much if they are produced by selfishness 
and coldness and ease-loving laziness among compara- 
tively poor people as if they are produced by vicious or 
frivolous luxury in the rich. If the men of the nation are 
not anxious to work in many different ways, with all their 
might and strength, and ready and able to fight at need, 
and anxious to be fathers of families, and if the women do 
not recognize that the greatest thing for any woman is to be 
a good wife and mother, why, that nation has cause to be 
alarmed about its future. 



PREFATORY LETTER ix 

There is no physical trouble among us Americans. The 
trouble with the situation you set forth is one of character, 
and therefore we can conquer it if we only will. 

Very sincerely yours, 

THEODORE ROOSEVELT. 



PREFATORY NOTE 



A portion of the material in this book 
appeared serially under the same title in 
Everybody's Magazine. Nearly a third 
of the volume has not been published in 
any form. 



CONTENTS 



By MRS. JOHN VAN VORST 

CHAPTER PAGE 

I. Introductory . . . . I 

II. In a Pittsburg Factory . . . . 7 

III. Perry, a New York Mill Town . . 59 

IV. Making Clothing in Chicago ... 99 
V. The Meaning of It All . . . . 155 



By MARIE VAN VORST 

CHAPTER ' PAGE 

VI. Introductory 165 

VII. A Maker of Shoes at Lynn . . 169 
VIII. The Southern Cotton Mills ... 215 

The Mill Village 
The Mill 

IX. The Child in the Southern Mills . . 275 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 

Miss Marie and Mrs. John Van Vorst in their factory 

COStUmeS, FrontitpiM 

FACING PACK 

" The streets are covered with snow, and over the snow the 

soot falls softly like a mantle of perpetual mourning," 12 

"Waving arms of smoke and steam, a symbol of spent 

energy, of the lives consumed, and vanishing again," 58 

"They trifle with love," 70 

After Saturday night's shopping, 84 

Sunday evening at Silver Lake, 96 

" The breath of the black, sweet night reached them, fetid, 
heavy with the odour of death as it blew across 

the stockyards," 102 

In a Chicago theatrical costume factory, . . . 114 

Chicago types, 128 

The rear of a Chicago tenement, . . . . . 144 

A delicate type of beauty at work in a Lynn shoe factory, 172 

One of the swells of the factory: a very expert "vamper," 

an Irish girl, earning from Sio to $14 a week, . 172 

"Learning" a new hand, 184 

The window side of Miss K.'s parlour at Lynn, Mass., 196 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS (Continued) 

FACING PAGE 

"Fancy gumming" 210 

An all-round, experienced hand, . . . . 210 

"Mighty mill pride of the architect and the commercial 

magnate," 220 

" The Southern mill-hand's face is unique, a fearful type," 240 



THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

CHAPTER I INTRODUCTORY 

BY 

MRS. JOHN VAN VORST 



CHAPTER I 
INTRODUCTORY 

ANY journey into the world, any research in 
literature, any study of society, demonstrates the 
existence of two distinct classes designated as the 
rich and the poor, the fortunate and the unfortu- 
nate, the upper and the lower, the educated and 
the uneducated and a further variety of opposing 
epithets. Few of us who belong to the former cate- 
gory have come into more than brief contact with 
the labourers who, in the factories or elsewhere, gain 
from day to day a livelihood frequently insufficient 
for their needs. Yet all of us are troubled by then- 
struggle, all of us recognize the misery of their 
surroundings, the paucity of their moral and esthetic 
inspiration, their lack of opportunity for physical 
development. All of us have a longing, pronounced 
or latent, to help them, to alleviate their distress, 
to better their condition in some, in every way. 

Now concerning this unknown class whose oppres- 
sion we deplore we have two sources of information : 
the financiers who, for their own material advance- 
ment, use the labourer as a means, and the philan- 
thropists who consider the poor as objects of charity, 

3 



4 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

to be treated sentimentally, or as economic cases to 
be studied theoretically. It is not by economics nor 
by the distribution of bread alone that we can find 
a solution for the social problem. More important 
for the happiness of man is the hope we cherish of 
eventually bringing about a reign of justice and 
equality upon earth. 

It is evident that, in order to render practical aid 
to this class, we must live among them, understand 
their needs, acquaint ourselves with their desires, 
their hopes, their aspirations, their fears. We must 
discover and adopt their point of view, put ourselves 
in their surroundings, assume their burdens, unite 
with them in their daily effort. In this way alone, 
and not by forcing upon them a preconceived ideal, 
can we do them real good, can we help them to find 
a moral, spiritual, esthetic standard suited to their 
condition of life. Such an undertaking is impossible 
for most. Sure of its utility, inspired by its prac- 
tical importance, I determined to make the sacrifice 
it. entailed and to learn by experience and observa- 
tion what these could teach. I set out to surmount 
physical fatigue and revulsion, to place my intellect 
and sympathy in contact as a medium between the 
working girl who wants help and the more fortu- 
nately situated who wish to help her. In the papers 
which follow I have endeavoured to give a faithful 
picture of things as they exist, both in and out of 
the factory, and to suggest remedies that occurred 



INTRODUCTORY 5 

to me as practical. My desire is to act as a mouth- 
piece for the woman labourer. I assumed her mode 
of existence with the hope that I might put into 
words her cry for help. It has been my purpose 
to find out what her capacity is for suffering and for 
joy as compared with ours ; what tastes she has, what 
ambitions, what the equipment of woman is as com- 
pared to that of man : her equipment as determined, 

i st. By nature, 

2d. By family life, 

3d. By social laws; 

what her strength is and what her weaknesses are 
as compared with the woman of leisure ; and finally, 
to discern the tendencies of a new society as mani- 
fested by its working girls. 

After many weeks spent among them as one of 
them I have come away convinced that no earnest 
effort for their betterment is fruitless. I am hopeful 
that my faithful descriptions will perhaps suggest, 
to the hearts of those who read, some ways of 
rendering personal and general help to that 
class who, through the sordidness and squalour of 
their material surroundings, the limitation of their 
opportunities, are condemned to slow death 
mental, moral, physical death ! If into their 
prison's midst, after the reading of these lines, a 
single death pardon should be carried, my work 
shall not have been in vain. 



IN A PITTSBURG FACTORY 



CHAPTER II 

IN A PlTTSBURG FACTORY 

IN choosing the scene for my first experiences, I 
decided upon Pittsburg, as being an industrial centre 
whose character was determined by its working 
population. It exceeds all other cities of the country 
in the variety and extent of its manufacturing 
products. Of its 321,616 inhabitants, 100,000 are 
labouring men employed in the mills. Add to these 
the great number of women and girls who work in the 
factories and clothing shops, and the character of the 
place becomes apparent at a glance. There is, more- 
over, another reason which guided me toward this 
Middle West town without its like. This land which 
we are accustomed to call democratic, is in reality 
composed of a multitude of kingdoms whose despots 
are the employers the multi-millionaire patrons 
and whose serfs are the labouring men and women. 
The rulers are invested with an authority and a 
power not unlike those possessed by the early barons, 
the feudal lords, the Lorenzo de Medicis, the Cheops ; 
but with this difference, that whereas Pharaoh by 
his unique will controlled a thousand slaves, the steel 
magnate uses, for his own ends also, thousands of 

9 



io THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

separate wills. It was a submissive throng who built 
the pyramids. The mills which produce half the 
steel the world requires are run by a collection of 
individuals. Civilization has undergone a change. 
The multitudes once worked for one ; now each man 
works for himself first and for a master secondarily. 
In our new society where tradition plays no part, 
where the useful is paramount, where business 
asserts itself over art and beauty, where material 
needs are the first to be satisfied, and where the 
country's unclaimed riches are our chief incentive 
to effort, it is not uninteresting to find an analogy 
with the society in Italy which produced the Renais- 
sance. Diametrically opposed in their ideals, they 
have a common spirit. In Italy the rebirth was of. 
the love of art, and of classic forms, the desire to 
embellish all that was inspired by culture of the 
beautiful ; the Renaissance in America is the rebirth 
of man's originality in the invention of the useful, 
the virgin power of man's wits as quickened in the 
crude struggle for life. Florence is par excellence 
the place where we can study the Italian Renaissance ; 
Pittsburg appealed to me as a most favourable spot 
to watch the American Renaissance, the enlivening 
of energies which give value to a man devoid of 
education, energies which in their daily exercise with 
experience generate a new force, a force that makes 
our country what it is, industrially and economically. 
So it was toward Pittsburg that I first directed my 



IN A PITTSBURG FACTORY n 

steps, but before leaving New York I assumed my 
disguise. In the Parisian clothes I am accustomed 
to wear I present the familiar outline of any 
woman of the world. With the aid of coarse woolen 
garments, a shabby felt sailor hat, a cheap piece of 
fur, a knitted shawl and gloves I am transformed 
into a working girl of the ordinary type. I was born 
and bred and brought up in the world of the for- 
tunate I am going over now into the world of the 
unfortunate. I am to share their burdens, to lead 
their lives, to be present as one of them at the 
spectacle of their sufferings and joys, their ambitions 
and sorrows. 

I get no farther than the depot when I observe 
that I am being treated as though I were ignorant 
and lacking in experience. As a rule the gateman 
says a respectful "To the right" or "To the left," 
and trusts to his well-dressed hearer's intelligence. 
A word is all that a moment's hesitation calls forth. 
To the working girl he explains as follows: "Now 
you take your ticket, do you understand, and I'll 
pick up your money for you ; you don't need to pay 
anything for your ferry just put those three cents 
back in your pocket-book and go down there to 
where that gentleman is standing and he'll direct 
you to your train." 

This without my having asked a question. I had 
divested myself of a certain authority along with my 
good clothes, and I had become one of a class which, 



12 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

as the gateman had found out, and as I find out 
later myself, are devoid of all knowledge of the 
world and, aside from their manual training, igno- 
rant on all subjects. 

My train is three hours late, which brings me at 
about noon to Pittsburg. I have not a friend or an 
acquaintance within hundreds of miles. With my 
bag in my hand I make my way through the dark, 
busy streets to the Young Women's Christian 
Association. It is down near a frozen river. The 
wind blows sharp and biting over the icy water ; the 
streets are covered with snow, and over the snow the 
soot falls softly like a mantle of perpetual mourning. 
There is almost no traffic. Innumerable tramways 
ring their way up and down wire-lined avenues; 
occasionally a train of freight cars announces itself 
with a warning bell in the city's midst. It is a black 
town of toil, one man in every three a labourer. 
They have no need for vehicles of pleasure. The 
trolleys take them to their work, the trains trans- 
port the products of the mills. 

I hear all languages spoken : this prodigious town 
is a Western bazaar where the nations assemble not 
to buy but to be employed. The stagnant scum of 
other countries floats hither to be purified in the 
fierce bouillon of live opportunity. It is a cosmo- 
politan procession that passes me: the dusky 
Easterner with a fez of Astrakhan, the gentle-eyed 
Italan with a shawl of gay colours, the loose-lipped 



IN A PITTSBURG FACTORY 13 

Hungarian, the pale, mystic Swede, the German 
with wife and children hanging on his arm. 

In this giant bureau of labour all nationalities 
gather, united by a common bond of hope, animated 
by a common chance of prosperity, kindred through 
a common effort, fellow-citizens in a new land of 
freedom. 

At the central office of the Young Women's 
Christian Association I receive what attention a 
busy secretary can spare me. She questions and I 
answer as best I can. 

"What is it you want?" 

"Board and work in a factory." 

"Have you ever worked in a factory?" 

"No, ma'am." 

"Have you ever done any housework?" 

She talks in the low, confidential tone of those 
accustomed to reforming prisoners and reasoning 
with the poor. 

"Yes, ma'am, I have done housework." 

"What did you make?" 

"Twelve dollars a month." 

"I can get you a place where you will have a 
room to yourself and fourteen dollars a month. Do 
you want it?" 

"No, ma'am." 

"Are you making anything now ?" 

"No, ma'am." 

"Can you afford to pay board ?" 



i 4 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

"Yes, as I hope to get work at once." 

She directs me to a boarding place which is at 
the same time a refuge for the friendless and a 
shelter for waifs. The newly arrived population of 
the fast-growing city seems unfamiliar with the 
address I carry written on a card. I wait on cold 
street corners, I travel over miles of half-settled 
country, long stretches of shanties and saloons 
huddled close to the trolley line. The thermometer 
is at zero. Toward three o'clock I find the waif 
boarding-house. 

The matron is in the parlour hovering over a 
gas stove. She has false hair, false teeth, false 
jewelry, and the dry, crabbed, inquisitive manner 
of the idle who are entrusted with authority. She 
is there to direct others and do nothing herself, to 
be cross and make herself dreaded. In the distance 
I can hear a shrill, nasal orchestra of children's 
voices. I am cold and hungry. I have as yet no 
job. The noise, the sordidness, the witchlike matron 
annoy me. I have a sudden impulse to flee, to seek 
warmth and food and proper shelter to snap my 
fingers at experience and be grateful I was born 
among the fortunate. Something within me calls 
Courage / I take a room at three dollars a week 
with board, put my things in it, and while my feet 
yet ache with cold I start to find a factory, a 
pickle factory, which, the matron tells me, is run 
by a Christian gentleman. 



IN A PITTSBURG FACTORY 15 

I have felt timid and even overbold at different 
moments in my life, but never so audacious as 
on entering a factory door marked in gilt letters: 
"Women Employees." 

The Cerberus between me and the fulfilment 
of my purpose is a gray-haired timekeeper with 
kindly eyes. He sits in a glass cage and about him 
are a score or more of clocks all ticking soundly and 
all surrounded by an extra dial of small numbers 
running from one to a thousand. Each number 
means a workman each tick of the clock a moment 
of his life gone in the service of the pickle company. 
I rap on the window of the glass cage. It opens. 

"Do you need any girls?" I ask, trying not to 
show my emotion. 

"Ever worked in a factory?" 

"No, sir ; but I'm very handy." 

"What have you done?" 

"Housework," I respond with conviction, begin- 
ning to believe it myself. 

"Well," he says, looking at me, "they need help 
up in the bottling department ; but I don't know as it 
would pay you they don't give more than sixty 
or seventy cents a day." 

* ' I am awfully anxious for work, ' ' I say. ' * Couldn't 
I begin and get raised, perhaps?" 

"Surely there is always room for those who 
show the right spirit. You come in to-morrow 
morning at a quarter before seven. You can try it, 



16 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

and you mustn't get discouraged ; there's plenty of 
work for good workers." 

The blood tingles through my cold hands. My 
heart is lighter. I have not come in vain. I have a 
place ! 

When I get back to the boarding-house it is 
twilight. The voices I had heard and been annoyed 
by have materialized. Before the gas stove there 
are nine small individuals dressed in a strange com- 
bination of uniform checked aprons and patent 
leather boots worn out and discarded by the babies 
of the fortunate. The small feet they encase are 
crossed, and the freshly washed faces are demure, as 
the matron with the wig frowns down into a news- 
paper from which she now and then hisses a com- 
mand to order. Three miniature members are 
rocking violently in tiny rocking chairs. 

"Quit rocking!" the false mother cries at them. 
"You make my head ache. Most of 'em have no 
parents,'' she explains to me. "None of 'em have 
homes." 

Here they are, a small kingdom, not wanted, 
unwelcome, unprovided for, growled at and grum- 
bled over. Yet each is developing in spite of chance ; 
each is determining hour by hour his heritage from 
unknown parents. The matron leaves us; the 
rocking begins again. Conversation is animated. 
The three-year-old baby bears the name of a three- 
year-old hero. This "Dewey" complains in a plain- 



IN A PITTSBURG FACTORY 17 

tive voice of a too long absent mother. His rosy 
lips are pursed out even with his nose. Again and 
again he reiterates the refrain: "My mamma don't 
never come to see me. She don't bring me no 
toys." And then with pride, "My mamma buys rice 
and tea and Iqts of things," and dashing to the win- 
dow as a trolley rattles by, "My mamma comes in the 
street cars, only," sadly, "she don't never come." 

Not one of them has forgotten what fate has 
willed them to do without. At first they look 
shrinkingly toward my outstretched hand. Is it 
coming to administer some punishment ? Little by 
little they are reassured, and, gaining in confidence, 
they sketch for me in disconnected chapters the 
short outlines of their lives. 

"I've been to the hospital," says one, "and so's 
Lily. I drank a lot of washing soda and it made me 
sick." 

Lily begins her hospital reminiscences. "I had 
typhoy fever I was in the childun's ward 
awful long, and one night they turned down the 
lights it was just evening and a man came in and 
he took one of the babies up in his arms, and we all 
said, 'What's the row? What's the row?' and he 
says 'Hush, the baby's dead.' And out in the hall 
there was something white, and he carried the baby 
and put it in the white thing, and the baby had a 
doll that could talk, and he put that in the white 
thing too, right alongside o' the dead baby. Another 



1 8 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

time," Lily goes on, "there was a baby in a crib 
alongside of mine, and one day he was takin' his 
bottle, and all of a suddint he choked, and he kept 
on chokin' and then he died, and he was still takin' 
his bottle." 

Lily is five. I see in her and in her companions 
a familiarity not only with the mysteries but with 
the stern realities of life. They have an under- 
standing look at the mention of death, drunken- 
ness and all domestic difficulties or irregularities. 
Their vocabulary and conversation image the vio- 
lent and brutal side of existence the only one with 
which they are acquainted. 

At bedtime I find my way upward through dark 
and narrow stairs that open into a long room with a 
slanting roof. It serves as nursery and parlour. 
In the dull light of a stove and an oil lamp four or 
five women are seated with babies on their knees. 
They have the meek look of those who doom them- 
selves to acceptance of misfortune, the flat, resigned 
figures of the overworked. Their loose woolen jackets 
hang over their gaunt shoulders; their straight hair 
is brushed hard and smooth against high foreheads. 
One baby lies a comfortable bundle in its mother's 
arms ; one is black in the face after a spasm of cough- 
ing ; one howls its woes through a scarlet mask. The 
corners of the room are filled with the drones 
those who ''work for a bite of grub." The cook, her 
washing done, has piled her aching bones in a heap ; 



IN A PITTSBURG FACTORY 19 

her drawn face waits like an indicator for some fresh 
signal to a new fatigue. Mary, the woman-of -all- 
work, who has spent more than one night within a 
prison's walls, has long ago been brutalized by the 
persistence of life in spite of crime ; her gray hair 
ripples like sand under receding waves ; her profile 
is strong and fine, but her eyes have a film of 
misery over them dull and silent, they deaden 
her face. And Jennie, the charwoman, is she a 
cripple or has toil thus warped her body? Her 
arms, long and withered, swing like the broken 
branches of a gnarled tree ; her back is twisted and 
her head bowed toward earth. A stranger to rest, 
she seems a mechanical creature wound up for 
work and run down in the middle of a task. 

What could be hoped for in such surroundings? 
With every effort to be clean the dirt accumulates 
faster than it can be washed away. It was impos- 
sible, I found by my own experience, to be really 
clean. There was a total absence of beauty in 
everything not a line of grace, not a pleasing sound, 
not an agreeable odour anywhere. One could get 
used to this ugliness, become unconscious even of 
the acrid smells that pervade the tenement. It 
was probable my comrades felt at no time the 
discomfort I did, but the harm done them is not the 
physical suffering their condition causes, but the 
moral and spiritual bondage in which it holds them. 
They are not a class of drones made differently 



20 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

from us. I saw nothing to indicate that they were 
not born with like capacities to ours. As our bodies 
accustom themselves to luxury and cleanliness, 
theirs grow hardened to deprivation and filth. As 
our souls develop with the advantages of all that 
constitutes an ideal an intellectual, esthetic and 
moral ideal their souls diminish under the oppres- 
sion of a constant physical effort to meet 
material demands. The fact that they become 
physically callous to what we consider unbearable 
is used as an argument for their emotional insensi- 
bility. I hold such an argument as false. From all 
I saw I am convinced that, given their relative prepa- 
ration for suffering and for pleasure, their griefs and 
their joys are the same as ours in kind and in degree. 

When one is accustomed to days begun at will by 
the summons of a tidy maid, waking oneself at half- 
past five means to be guardian of the hours until this 
time arrives. Once up, the toilet I made in the 
nocturnal darkness of my room can best be described 
by the matron's remark to me as I went to bed : "If 
you want to wash/' she said, "you'd better wash 
now ; you can't have no water in your room, and there 
won't be nobody up when you leave in the morning." 
My evening bath is supplemented by a whisk of the 
sponge at five. 

Without it is black a more intense black than 
night's beginning, when all is astir. The streets are 



IN A PITTSBURG FACTORY 21 

rilent, an occasional train whirls past, groups of men 
hurry hither and thither swinging their arms, rub- 
bing their ears in the freezing air. Many of them 
have neither overcoats nor gloves. Now and then 
a woman sweeps along. Her skirts have the same 
swing as my own short ones; under her arm she 
carries a newspaper bundle whose meaning I have 
grown to know. My own contains a midday meal: 
two cold fried oysters, two dried preserve sand- 
wiches, a pickle and an orange. My way lies across 
a bridge. In the first gray of dawn the river shows 
black under its burden of ice. Along its troubled 
banks innumerable chimneys send forth their hot 
activity, clouds of seething flames, waving arms of 
smoke and steam a symbol of spent energy, of the 
lives consumed and vanishing again, the sparks that 
shine an instant against the dark sky and are spent 
forever. 

As I draw nearer the factory I move with a stream 
of fellow workers pouring toward the glass cage of the 
timekeeper. He greets me and starts me on my 
upward journey with a wish that I shall not get dis- 
couraged, a reminder that the earnest worker always 
makes a way for herself. 

" What will you do about your name ? " " What 
will you do with your hair and your hands ? ' ' 
" How can you deceive people?" These are some 
of the questions I had been asked by my friends. 

Before any one had cared or needed to know my 



22 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

name it was morning of the second day, and my 
assumed name seemed by that time the only one I 
had ever had. As to hair and hands, a half -day's 
work suffices for their undoing. And my disguise is 
so successful I have deceived not only others but 
myself. I have become with desperate reality a 
factory girl, alone, inexperienced, friendless. I am 
making $4.20 a week and spending $3 of this for 
board alone, and I dread not being strong enough 
to keep my job. I climb endless stairs, am given 
a white cap and an apron, and my life as a factory 
girl begins. I become part of the ceaseless, 
unrelenting mechanism kept in motion by the poor. 

The factory I have chosen has been built contem- 
poraneously with reforms and sanitary inspection. 
There are clean, well-aired rooms, hot and cold water 
with which to wash, places to put one's hat and 
coat, an obligatory uniform for regular employees, 
hygienic and moral advantages of all kinds, ample 
space for work without crowding. 

Side by side in rows of tens or twenties we stand 
before our tables waiting for the seven o'clock whistle 
to blow. In their white caps and blue frocks and 
aprons, the girls in my department, like any unfa- 
miliar class, all look alike. My first task is an easy 
one ; anybody could do it. On the stroke of seven my 
fingers fly. I place a lid of paper in a tin jar-top, 
over it a cork ; this I press down with both hands, 
tossing the cover, when done, into a pan. In spite 



IN A PITTSBURG FACTORY 23 

of myself I hurry; I cannot work fast enough I 
outdo my companions. How can they be so slow? 
I have finished three dozen while they are doing two. 
Every nerve, every muscle is offering some of its 
energy. Over in one corner the machinery for seal- 
ing the jars groans and roars ; the mingled sounds of 
filling, washing, wiping, packing, comes to my eager 
ears as an accompaniment for the simple work 
assigned to me. One hour passes, two, three hours ; 
I fit ten, twenty, fifty dozen caps, and still my energy 
keeps up. 

The forewoman is a pretty girl of twenty. Her 
restless eyes, her metallic voice are the messengers 
who would know all. I am afraid of her. I long to 
please her. I am sure she must be saying "How 
well the new girl works." 

Conversation is possible among those whose work 
has become mechanical. Twice I am sent to the 
storeroom for more caps. In these brief moments 
my companions volunteer a word of themselves. 

" I was out to a ball last night," the youngest one 
says. " I stayed so late I didn't feel a bit like getting 
up this morning." 

''That's nothing," another retorts. "There's 
hardly an evening we don't have company at the 
house, music or somethin' ; I never get enough rest." 

And on my second trip the pale creature with me 
says: 

"I'm in deep mourning. My mother died last 



24 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

Friday week. It's awful lonely without her. Seems 
as though I'd never get over missing her. I miss 
her dreadful. Perhaps by and by I'll get used to 
it." 

"Oh, no, you won't," the answer comes from a 
girl with short skirts. " You'll never get used to 
it. My ma's been dead eight years next month 
and I dreamt about her all last night. I can't get 
her out o' me mind." 

Born into dirt and ugliness, disfigured by effort, 
they have the same heritage as we : joys and sorrows, 
grief and laughter. With them as with us gaiety is 
up to its old tricks, tempting from graver rivals, 
making duty an alien. Grief is doing her ugly work : 
hollowing round cheeks, blackening bright eyes, 
putting her weight of leaden loneliness in hearts 
heretofore light with youth. 

When I have fitted no dozen tin caps the fore- 
woman comes and changes my job. She tells me to 
haul and load up some heavy crates with pickle jars. 
I am wheeling these back and forth when the twelve 
o'clock whistle blows. Up to that time the room has 
been one big dynamo, each girl a part of it. With 
the first moan of the noon signal the dynamo comes 
to life. It is hungry; it has friends and favourites 
news to tell. We herd down to a big dining-room 
and take our places, five hundred of us in all. The 
newspaper bundles are unfolded. The me*nu varies 
little : bread and jam, cake and pickles, occasionally 



IN A PITTSBURG FACTORY 25 

a sausage, a bit of cheese or a piece of stringy cold 
meat. In ten minutes the repast is over. The 
dynamo has been fed; there are twenty minutes of 
leisure spent in dancing, singing, resting, and 
conversing chiefly about young men and "socia- 
bles." 

At 12:30 sharp the whistle draws back the life 
it has given. I return to my job. My shoulders 
are beginning to ache. My hands are stiff, 
my thumbs almost blistered. The enthusiasm I 
had felt is giving way to a numbing weariness. I 
look at my companions now in amazement. How 
can they keep on so steadily, so swiftly ? Cases are 
emptied and refilled; bottles are labeled, stamped 
and rolled away ; jars are washed, wiped and loaded, 
and still there are more cases, more jars, more 
bottles. Oh ! the monotony of it, the never-ending 
supply of work to be begun and finished, begun and 
finished, begun and finished ! Now and then some 
one cuts a finger or runs a splinter under the flesh ; 
once the mustard machine broke and still the work 
goes on, on, on ! New girls like myself, who had 
worked briskly in the morning, are beginning to 
loiter. Out of the washing-tins hands come up red 
and swollen, only to be plunged again into hot dirty 
water. Would the whistle never blow? Once I 
pause an instant, my head dazed and weary, my ears 
strained to bursting with the deafening noise. 
Quickly a voice whispers in my ear: 



26 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

" You'd better not stand there doin' nothin'. If 
she catches you she'll give it to you." 

On ! on ! bundle of pains ! For you this is one 
day's work in a thousand of peace and beauty. For 
those about you this is the whole of daylight, this is 
the winter dawn and twilight, this is the glorious 
summer noon, this is all day, this is every day, this 
is life. Rest is only a bit of a dream, snatched when 
the sleeper's aching body lets her close her eyes for 
a moment in oblivion. 

Out beyond the chimney tops the snowfields and 
the river turn from gray to pink, and still the work 
goes on. Each crate I lift grows heavier, each bottle 
weighs an added pound. Now and then some one 
lends a helping hand. 

11 Tired, ain't you? This is your first day, ain't 
it?" 

The acid smell of vinegar and mustard penetrates 
everywhere. My ankles cry out pity. Oh ! to sit 
down an instant ! 

"Tidy up the table," some one tells me; "we're 
soongoin' home." 

Home ! I think of the stifling fumes of fried food, 
the dim haze in the kitchen where my supper waits 
me; the children, the band of drifting workers, the 
shrill, complaining voice of the hired mother. This 
is home. 

I sweep and set to rights, limping, lurching along. 
At last the whistle blows ! In a swarm we report ; 



IN A PITTSBURG FACTORY 27 

we put on our things and get away into the cool 
night air. I have stood ten hours; I have fitted 
1,300 corks; I have hauled and loaded 4,000 jars 
of pickles. My pay is seventy cents. 

The impressions of my first day crowd pell-mell 
upon my mind. The sound of the machinery dins 
in my ears. I can hear the sharp, nasal voices of the 
forewoman and the girls shouting questions and 
answers. 

A sudden recollection comes to me of a 
Dahomayan family I had watched at work in their 
hut during the Paris Exhibition. There was a 
magic spell in their voices as they talked together; 
the sounds they made had the cadence of the wind 
in the trees, the running of water, the song of birds : 
they echoed unconsciously the caressing melodies 
of nature. My factory companions drew their vocal 
inspiration from the bedlam of civilization, the 
rasping and pounding of machinery, the din which 
they must out-din to be heard. 

For the two days following my first experience I 
am unable to resume work. Fatigue has swept 
through my blood like a fever. Every bone and 
joint has a clamouring ache. I pass the time visit- 
ing other factories and hunting for a place to board 
in the neighbourhood of the pickling house. At the 
cork works they do not need girls; at the cracker 
company I can get a job, but the hours are longer, 
the advantages less than where I am; at the broom 



28 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

factory they employ only men. I decide to con- 
tinue with tin caps and pickle jars. 

My whole effort now is to find a respectable 
boarding-house. I start out, the thermometer near 
zero, the snow falling. I wander and ask, wander 
and ask. Up and down the black streets running 
parallel and at right angles with the factory I tap 
and ring at one after another of the two-story red- 
brick houses. More than half of them are empty, 
tenantless during the working hours. What hope 
is there for family life near the hearth which is 
abandoned at the factory's first call? The sociable- 
ness, the discipline, the division of responsibility 
make factory work a dangerous rival to domestic 
care. There is something in the modern conditions 
of labour which act magnetically upon American 
girls, impelling them to work not for bread alone, 
but for clothes and finery as well. Each class in 
modern society knows a menace to its homes : sport, 
college education, machinery each is a factor in the 
gradual transformation of family life from a united 
domestic group to a collection of individuals with 
separate interests and aims outside the home. 

I pursue my search. It is the dinner hour. At last 
a narrow door opens, letting a puff of hot rank air 
blow upon me as I stand in the vestibule questioning : 
"Do you take boarders ?" 

The woman who answers stands with a spoon 
in her hand, her eyes fixed upon a rear room 



IN A PITTSBURG FACTORY 29 

where a stove, laden with frying-pans, glows and 
sputters. 

"Come in," she says, "and get warm." 

I walk into a front parlour with furniture that 
evidently serves domestic as well as social purposes. 
There is a profusion of white knitted tidies and 
portieres that exude an odour of cooking. Before 
the fire a workingman sits in a blue shirt and over- 
alls. Fresh from the barber's hands, he has a clean 
mask marked by the razor's edge. Already I feel 
at home. 

"Want board, do you?" the woman asks. "Well, 
we ain't got no place; we're always right full 
up." 

My disappointment is keen. Regretfully I leave 
the fire and start on again. 

"I guess you'll have some trouble in finding what 
you want," the woman calls to me on her way back 
to the kitchen, as I go out. 

The answer is everywhere the same, with slight 
variations. Some take "mealers" only, some only 
"roomers," some "only gentlemen." I begin to 
understand it. Among the thousands of families 
who live in the city on account of the work provided 
by the mills, there are girls enough to fill the factories. 
There is no influx such as creates in a small town the 
necessity for working-girl boarding-houses. There 
is an ample supply of hands from the existing homes. 
There is the same difference between city and 



3 o THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

country factory life that there is between university 
life in a capital and in a country town. 

A sign on a neat-looking corner house attracts 
me. I rap and continue to rap ; the door is opened 
at length by a tall good-looking young woman. Her 
hair curls prettily, catching the light ; her eyes are 
stupid and beautiful. She has on a black skirt and 
a bright purple waist. 

1 'Do you take boarders ?" 

"Why, yes. I don't generally like to take ladies, 
they give so much trouble. You can come in if you 
like. Here's the room," she continues, opening a 
door near the vestibule. She brushes her hand 
over her forehead and stares at me; and then, as 
though she can no longer silence the knell that is 
ringing in her heart, she says to me, always staring: 

"My husband was killed on the railroad last week. 
He lived three hours. They took him to the hospital 
a boy come running down and told me. I went 
up as fast as I could, but it was too late ; he never 
spoke again. I guess he didn't know what struck 
him ; his head was all smashed. He was awful good 
to me so easy-going. I ain't got my mind down 
to work yet. If you don't like this here room," she 
goes on listlessly, "maybe you' could get suited 
across the way." 

Thompson Seton tells us in his book on wild 
animals that not one among them ever dies a natural 
death. As the opposite extreme of vital persistence 



IN A PITTSBURG FACTORY 31 

we have the man whose life, in spite of acute disease, 
is prolonged against reason by science ; and midway 
comes the labourer, who takes his chances unarmed 
by any understanding of physical law, whose only 
safeguards are his wits and his presence of mind. 
The violent death, the accidents, the illnesses to 
which he falls victim might be often warded off 
by proper knowledge. Nature is a zealous enemy; 
ignorance and inexperience keep a whole class 
defenseless. 

The next day is Saturday. I feel a fresh excite- 
ment at going back to my job ; the factory draws me 
toward it magnetically. I long to be in the hum and 
whir of the busy workroom. Two days of leisure 
without resources or amusement make clear to me 
how the sociability of factory life, the freedom from 
personal demands, the escape from self can prove a 
distraction to those who have no mental occupation, 
no money to spend on diversion. It is easier to 
submit to factory government which commands 
five hundred girls with one law valid for all, than to 
undergo the arbitrary discipline of parental authority. 
I speed across the snow-covered courtyard. In a 
moment my cap and apron are on and I am sent to 
report to the head forewoman. 

"We thought you'd quit," she says. "Lots of 
girls come in here and quit after one day, especially 
Saturday. To-day is scrubbing day," she smiles at 
me. "Now we'll do right by you if you do 



32 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

right by us. What did the timekeeper say he'd give 
you?" 

"Sixty or seventy a day." 

"We'll give you seventy/' she says. "Of course, 
we can judge girls a good deal by their looks, and 
we can see that you're above the average." 

She wears her cap close against her head. Her 
front hair is rolled up in crimping-pins. She has 
false teeth and is a widow. Her pale, parched face 
shows what a great share of life has been taken by 
daily over-effort repeated during years. As she talks 
she touches my arm in a kindly fashion and looks 
at me with blue eyes that float about under weary 
lids. "You are only at the beginning," they seem 
to say. "Your youth and vigour are at full tide, 
but drop by drop they will be sapped from you, to 
swell the great flood of human effort that supplies 
the world's material needs. You will gain in experi- 
ence," the weary lids flutter at me, "but you will pay 
with your life the living you make." 

There is no variety in my morning's work. Next 
to me is a bright, pretty girl jamming chopped 
pickles into bottles. 

"How long have you been here?" I ask, attracted 
by her capable appearance. She does her work 
easily and well. 

"About five months." 

"How much do you make?" 

"From 90 cents to $1.05. I'm doing piece-work," 



IN A PITTSBURG FACTORY 33 

she explains. "I get seven-eighths of a cent for every 
dozen bottles I fill. I have to fill eight dozen to make 
seven cents. Downstairs in the corking-room you 
can make as high as $1.15 to $1.20. They won't let 
you make any more ijian that. Me and them two 
girls over there are the only ones in this room doing 
piece-work. I was here three weeks as a day-worker. ' ' 

"Do you live at home ?" I ask. 

"Yes ; I don't have to work. I don't pay no board. 
My father and my brothers supports me and my 
mother. But," and her eyes twinkle, "I couldn't 
have the clothes I do if I didn't work." 

"Do you spend your money all on yourself?" 

"Yes." 

I am amazed at the cheerfulness of my companions. 
They complain of fatigue, of cold, but never at any 
time is there a suggestion of ill-humour. Their 
suppressed animal spirits reassert themselves when 
the forewoman's back is turned. Companionship 
is the great stimulus. I am confident that without 
the social entrain, the encouragement of example, it 
would be impossible to obtain as much from each 
individual girl as is obtained from them in groups 
of tens, fifties, hundreds working together. 

When lunch is over we are set to scrubbing. 
Every table and stand, every inch of the factory 
floor must be scrubbed in the next four hours. The 
whistle on Saturday blows an hour earlier. Any 
girl who has not finished her work when the day is 



34 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

done, so that she can leave things in perfect order, is 
kept overtime, for which she is paid at the rate of 
six or seven cents an hour. A pail of hot water, a 
dirty rag and a scrubbing-brush are thrust into my 
hands. I touch them gingerly. I get a broom 
and for some time make sweeping a necessity, but 
the forewoman is watching me. I am afraid of her. 
There is no escape. I begin to scrub. My hands go 
into the brown, slimy water and come out brown 
and slimy. I slop the soap-suds around and move 
on to a fresh place. It appears there are a right 
and a wrong way of scrubbing. The forewoman 
is at my side. 

"Have you ever scrubbed before?" she asks 
sharply. This is humiliating. 

"Yes," I answer; "I have scrubbed . . . oil- 
cloth." 

The forewoman knows how to do everything. 
She drops down on her knees and, with her strong 
arms and short-thumbed, brutal hands, she shows 
me how to scrub. 

The grumbling is general. There is but one 
opinion among the girls: it is not right that they 
should be made to do this work. They all echo the 
same resentment, but their complaints are made in 
whispers; not one has the courage to openly rebel. 
What, I wonder to myself, do the men do on scrub- 
bing day. I try to picture one of them on his hands 
and knees in a sea of brown mud. It is impossible. 



IN A PITTSBURG FACTORY 35 

The next time I go for a supply of soft soap in a 
department where the men are working I take a 
look at the masculine interpretation of house clean- 
ing. One man is playing a hose on the floor and the 
rest are rubbing the boards down with long-handled 
brooms and rubber mops. 

"You take it easy," I say to the boss. 

"I won't have no scrubbing in my place," he 
answers emphatically. "The first scrubbing day, 
they says to me 'Get down on your hands and knees/ 
and I says 'Just pay me my money, will you; I'm 
goin' home. What scrubbing can't be done with 
mops ain't going to be done by me.' The women 
wouldn't have to scrub, either, if they had enough 
spirit all of 'em to say so." 

I determined to find out if possible, during my stay 
in the factory, what it is that clogs this mainspring 
of "spirit" in the women. 

I hear fragmentary conversations about fancy 
dress balls, valentine parties, church sociables, 
flirtations and clothes. Almost all of the girls wear 
shoes with patent leather and some or much cheap 
jewelry, brooches, bangles and rings. A few draw 
their corsets in ; the majority are not laced. Here 
and there I see a new girl whose back is flat, whose 
chest is well developed. Among the older hands 
who have begun work early there is not a straight 
pair of shoulders. Much of the bottle washing and 
filling is done by children from twelve to fourteen 



36 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

years of age. On their slight, frail bodies toil weighs 
heavily; the delicate child form gives way to the 
iron hand of labour pressed too soon upon it. 
Backs bend earthward, chests recede, never to 
be sound again. 



After a Sunday of rest I arrive somewhat ahead 
of time on Monday morning, which leaves me a few 
moments for conversation with a piece-worker who 
is pasting labels on mustard jars. She is fifteen. 

"Do you like your job ?" I ask. 

"Yes, I do," she answers, pleased to tell her little 
history. "I began in a clothing shop. I only made 
$2.50 a week, but I didn't have to stand. I felt 
awful when papa made me quit. When I came in 
here, bein' on my feet tired me so I cried every 
night for two months. Now I've got used to it. 
I don't feel no more tired when I get home than I 
did when I started out." There are two sharp 
blue lines that drag themselves down from her 
eyes to her white cheeks. 

"Why, you know, at Christmas they give us two 
weeks," she goes on in the sociable tone of a woman 
whose hands are occupied. "I just didn't know 
what to do with myself." 

"Does your mother work?" 

"Oh, my, no. I don't have to work, only if I 
didn't I couldn't have the clothes I do. I save 



IN A PITTSBURG FACTORY 37 

some of my money and spend the rest on myself. I 
make $6 to $7 a week." 

The girl next us volunteers a share in the conver- 
sation. 

"I bet you can't guess how old I am." 

I look at her. Her face and throat are wrinkled, 
her hands broad and scrawny; she is tall and has 
short skirts. What shall be my clue ? If I judge 
by pleasure, " unborn " would be my answer; if by 
effort, then "a thousand years." 

"Twenty," I hazard as a safe medium. 

"Fourteen," she laughs. "I don't like it at home, 
the kids bother me so. Mamma's people are well- 
to-do. I'm working for my own pleasure." 

"Indeed, I wish I was," says a new girl with a red 
waist. "We three girls supports mamma and runs 
the house. We have $13 rent to pay and a load of 
coal every month and groceries. It's no joke, I can 
tell you." 

The whistle blows ; I go back to my monotonous 
task. The old aches begin again, first gently, then 
more and more sharply. The work itself is growing 
more mechanical. I can watch the girls around me. 
What is it that determines superiority in this class ? 
Why was the girl filling pickle jars put on piece- 
work after three weeks, when others older than she 
are doing day-work at fifty and sixty cents after a 
year in the factory ? What quality decides that four 
shall direct four hundred ? Intelligence I put first ; 



3 8 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

intelligence of any kind, from the natural pene- 
tration that needs no teaching to the common sense 
that every one relies -upon. Judgment is not far 
behind in the list, and it is soon matured by experi- 
ence. A strong will and a moral steadiness stand 
guardians over the other two. The little pickle 
girl is winning in the race by her intelligence. The 
forewomen have all four qualities, sometimes one, 
sometimes another predominating. Pretty Clara 
is smarter than Lottie. Lottie is more steady. 
Old Mrs. Minns' will has kept her at it until her 
judgment has become infallible and can command a 
good price. Annie is an evenly balanced mixture of 
all, and the five hundred who are working under the 
five lack these qualities somewhat, totally, or have 
them in useless proportions. 

Monday is a hard day. There is more complain- 
ing, more shirking, more gossip than in the middle of 
the week. Most of the girls have been to dances on 
Saturday night, to church on Sunday evening with 
some young man. Their conversation is vulgar and 
prosaic; there is nothing in the language they use 
that suggests an ideal or any conception of the 
abstract. They make jokes, state facts about the 
work, tease each other, but in all they say there is 
not a word of value nothing that would interest if 
repeated out of its class. They have none of the 
sagaciousness of the low-born Italian, none of the wit 
and penetration of the French ouvriere. The Old 



IN A PITTSBURG FACTORY 39 

World generations ago divided itself into classes; 
the lower class watched the upper and grew observ- 
ant and appreciative, wise and discriminating, 
through the study of a master's will. Here in the 
land of freedom, where no class line is rigid, the 
precious chance is not to serve but to live for oneself ; 
not to watch a superior, but to find out by experi- 
ence. The ideal plays no part, stern realities alone 
count, and thus we have a progressive, practical, 
independent people, the expression of whose per- 
sonality is interesting not through their words but 
by their deeds. 

When the Monday noon whistle blows I follow the 
hundreds down into the dining-room. Each wears 
her cap in a way that speaks for her temperament. 
There is the indifferent, the untidy, the prim, the 
vain, the coquettish; and the faces under them, 
which all looked alike at first, are becoming familiar, 
I have begun to make friends. I speak bad English, 
but do not attempt to change my voice and inflection 
nor to adopt the twang. No allusion is made to 
my pronunciation except by one girl, who says : 

"I knew you was from the East. My sister spent 
a year in Boston and when she come back she talked 
just like you do, but she lost it all again. I'd give 
anything if I could talk aristocratic.' 1 

I am beginning to understand why the meager 
lunches of preserve-sandwiches and pickles more 
than satisfy the girls whom I was prepared to 



40 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

accuse of spending their money on gewgaws rather 
than on nourishment. It is fatigue that steals the 
appetite. I can hardly taste what I put in my 
mouth ; the food sticks in my throat. The girls who 
complain most of being tired are the ones who roll 
up their newspaper bundles half full. They should 
be given an hour at noon. The first half of it should be 
spent in rest and recreation before a bite is touched. 
The good that such a regulation would work upon 
their faulty skins and pale faces, their lasting strength 
and health, would be incalculable. I did not want 
wholesome food, exhausted as I was. I craved 
sours and sweets, pickles, cake, anything to excite 
my numb taste. 

So long as I remain in the bottling department 
there is little variety in my days. Rising at 5 130 
every morning, I make my way through black 
streets to offer my sacrifice of energy on the altar of 
toil. All is done without a fresh incident. Accumu- 
lated weariness forces me to take a day off. When 
I return I am sent for in the corking-room. The 
forewoman lends me a blue gingham dress and tells 
me I am to do "piece" -work. There are three who 
work together at every corking-table. My two 
companions are a woman with goggles and a one- 
eyed boy. We are not a brilliant trio. The job 
consists in evening the vinegar in the bottles, driving 
the cork in, first with a machine, then with a ham- 
mer, letting out the air with a knife stuck under the 



IN A PITTSBURG FACTORY 41 

cork, capping the corks, sealing the caps, counting 
and distributing the bottles. These operations are 
paid for at the rate of one-half a cent for the dozen 
bottles, which sum is divided among us. My two com- 
panions are earning a giving, so I must work in dead 
earnest or take bread out of their mouths. At every 
blow of the hammer there is danger. Again and again 
bottles fly to pieces in my hand. The boy who runs 
the corking-machine smashes a glass to fragments. 

"Are you hurt?" I ask, my own fingers crimson 
stained. 

"That ain't nothin'," he answers. "Cuts is 
common; my hands is full of 'em." 

The woman directs us ; she is fussy and loses her 
head, the work accumulates, I am slow, the boy is 
clumsy. There is a stimulus unsuspected in working 
to get a job done. Before this I had worked to make 
the time pass. Then no one took account of how 
much I did ; the factory clock had a weighted pendu- 
lum ; now ambition outdoes physical strength. The 
hours and my purpose are running a race together. 
But, hurry as I may, as we do, when twelve blows 
its signal we have corked only 210 dozen bottles! 
This is no more than day-work at seventy cents. 
With an ache in every muscle, I redouble my energy 
after lunch. The girl with the goggles looks at me 
blindly and says : 

"Ain't it just awful hard work? You can make 
good money, but you've got to hustle." 



42 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

She is a forlorn specimen of humanity, ugly, old, 
dirty, condemned to the slow death of the over- 
worked. I am a green hand. I make mistakes ; I 
have no experience in the fierce sustained effort of 
the bread-winners. Over and over I turn to her, 
over and over she is obliged to correct me. During 
the ten hours we work side by side not one murmur 
of impatience escapes her. When she sees that I 
am getting discouraged she calls out across the 
deafening din, "That's all right; you can't expect to 
learn in a day ; just keep on steady." 

As I go about distributing bottles to the labelers 
I notice a strange little elf, not more than twelve 
years old, hauling loaded crates ; her face and chest 
are depressed, she is pale to blueness, her eyes have 
indigo circles, her pupils are unnaturally dilated, 
her brows contracted ; she has the appearance of a 
cave-bred creature. She seems scarcely human. 
When the time for cleaning up arrives toward five 
my boss sends me for a bucket of water to wash up 
the floor. I go to the sink, turn on the cold water 
and with it the steam which takes the place of hot 
water. The valve slips ; in an instant I am enveloped 
in a scalding cloud. Before it has cleared away the 
elf is by my side. 

"Did you hurt yourself?" she asks. 

Her inhuman form is the vehicle of a human 
heart, warm and tender. She lifts her wide-pupiled 
eyes to mine ; her expression does not change from 



IN A PITTSBURG FACTORY 43 

that of habitual scrutiny cast early in a rigid mould, 
but her voice carries sympathy from its purest 
source. 

There is more honour than courtesy in the code 
of etiquette. Commands are given curtly; the 
slightest injustice is resented; each man for himself 
in work, but in trouble all for the one who is suffering. 
No bruise or cut or burn is too familiar a sight to pass 
uncared for. 

It is their common sufferings, their common effort 
that unites them. 

When I have become expert in the corking art I 
am raised to a better table, with a bright boy, and a 
girl who is dignified and indifferent with the indiffer- 
ence of those who have had too much responsibility. 
She never hurries ; the work slips easily through her 
fingers. She keeps a steady bearing over the 
morning's ups and downs. Under her load of trials 
there is something big in the steady way she sails. 

"Used to hard work ?" she asks me. 

"Not much," I answer; "are you?" 

"Oh, yes. I began at thirteen in a bakery. I had 
a place near the oven and the heat overcame me." 

Her shoulders are bowed, her chest is hollow. 

"Looking for a boarding place near the factory, I 
hear," she continues. 

"Yes. You live at home, I suppose." 

"Yes. There's four of us: mamma, papa, my 
sister and myself. Papa' s blind. ' ' 



44 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

"Can't he work?" 

"Oh, yes, he creeps to his job every morning, and 
he's got so much experience he kind o' does things 
by instinct." 

"Does your mother work?" 

"Oh, my, no. My sister's an invalid. She 
hasn't been out o' the door for three years. She's 
got enlargement of the heart and consumption, too, 
I guess; she 'takes' hemorrhages. Sometimes she 
has twelve in one night. Every time she coughs the 
blood comes foaming out of her mouth. She can't 
lie down. I guess she'd die if she lay down, and she 
gets so tired sittin' up all night. She used to be a 
tailoress, but I guess her job didn't agree with her." 

"How many checks have we got," I ask toward 
the close of the day. 

"Thirteen," Ella answers. 

"An unlucky number," I venture, hoping to 
arouse an opinion. 

"Are you superstitious?" she asks, continuing to 
twist tin caps on the pickle jars. "I am. If 
anything' s going to happen I can't help having 
presentiments, and they come true, too." 

Here is a mystic, I thought; so I continued: 

"And what about dreams ?" 

" Oh !" she cried. ' ' Dreams ! I have the queerest 
of anybody !' ' 

I was all attention. 

"Why, last night," she drew near to me and spoke 



IN A PITTSBURG FACTORY 45 

slowly, "I dreamed that mamma was drunk, and 
that she was stealing chickens !" 

Such is the imagination of this weary worker. 

The whole problem in mechanical labour rests 
upon economy of force. The purpose of each, I 
learned by experience, was to accomplish as much 
as possible with one single stroke. In this respect 
the machine is superior to man, and man to woman. 
Sometimes I tried original ways of doing the work 
given me. I soon found in every case that the 
methods proposed by the forewoman were in the end 
those whereby I could do the greatest amount of 
work with the least effort. A mustard machine had 
recently been introduced to the factory. It replaced 
three girls; it filled as many bottles with a single 
stroke as the girls could fill with twelve. This 
machine and all the others used were run by boys or 
men ; the girls had not strength enough to manipu- 
late them methodically. 

The power of the machine, the physical force of 
the man were simplifying their tasks. While the 
boy was keeping steadily at one thing, perfecting 
himself, we, the women, were doing a variety of 
things, complicated and fussy, left to our lot because 
we had not physical force for the simpler but greater 
effort. The boy at the corking-table had soon 
become an expert; he was fourteen and he made 
from $i to $1.20 a day. He worked ten hours at 
one job, whereas Ella and I had a dozen little jobs 



46 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

almost impossible to systematize: we hammered 
and cut and capped the corks and washed and wiped 
the bottles, sealed them, counted them, distributed 
them, kept the table washed up, the sink cleaned 
out, and once a day scrubbed up our own precincts. 
When I asked the boy if he was tired he laughed at 
me. He was superior to us; he was stronger; he 
could do more with one stroke than we could do with 
three ; he was by nature a more valuable aid than 
we. We were forced through physical inferiority 
to abandon the choicest task to this young male 
competitor. Nature had given us a handicap at 
the start. 

For a few days there is no vacancy at the corking- 
tables. I am sent back to the bottling department. 
The oppressive monotony is one day varied by a 
summons to the men's dining-room. I go eagerly, 
glad of any change. In the kitchen I find a girl with 
skin disease peeling potatoes, and a coloured man 
making soup in a wash-boiler. The girl gives me a 
stool to sit on, and a knife and a pan of potatoes. 
The dinner under preparation is for the men of the 
factory. There are two hundred of them. They are 
paid from $1.35 up to $3 a day. Their wages begin 
above the highest limit given to women. The dinner 
costs each man ten cents. The $20 paid in daily 
cover the expenses of the cook, two kitchen maids 
and the dinner, which consists of meat, bread and 
butter, vegetables and coffee, sometimes soup, 



IN A PITTSBURG FACTORY 47 

sometimes dessert. If this can pay for two hundred 
there is no reason why for five cents a hot meal of 
some kind could not be given the women. They 
don't demand it, so they are left to make themselves 
ill on pickles and preserves. 

The coloured cook is full of song and verse. He 
quotes from the Bible freely, and gives us snatches of 
popular melodies. 

We have frequent calls from the elevator boy, who 
brings us ice and various provisions. Both men, 
I notice, take their work easily. During the morning 
a busy Irish woman comes hurrying into our pre- 
cincts. 

"Say," she yells in a shrill voice, "my cauliflowers 
ain't here, are they ? I ordered 'em early and they 
ain't came yet." 

Without properly waiting for an answer she 
hurries away again. 

The coloured cook turns to the elevator boy 
understandingly : 

"Just like a woman ! Why, before I'd make a fuss 
about cauliflowers or anything else !" 

About eleven the head forewoman stops in to eat 
a plate of rice and milk. While I am cutting 
bread for the two hundred I hear her say to the 
cook in a gossipy tone : 

"How do you like the new girl? She's here all 
alone." 

I am called away and do not hear the rest of the 



48 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

conversation. When I return the cook lectures me 
in this way : 

"Here alone, are you?" 

"Yes." 

"Well, I see no reason why you shouldn't get 
along nicely and not kill yourself with work either. 
Just stick at it and they'll do right by you. Lots o* 
girls who's here alone gets to fooling around. Now 
I like everybody to have a good time, and I hope 
you'll have a good time, too, but you mustn't carry 
it too far." 

My mind went back as he said this to a conversa- 
tion I had had the night before with a working-girl 
at my boarding-house. 

"Where is your home?" I asked. 

She had been doing general housework, but ill- 
health had obliged her to take a rest. 

She looked at me skeptically. 

"We don't have no homes," was her answer. 
"We just get up and get whenever they send us 
along." 

And almost as a sequel to this I thought of two 
sad cases that had come close to my notice as fellow 
boarders. 

I was sitting alone one night by the gas stove in 
the parlour. The matron had gone out and left me 
to "answer the door." The bell rang and I opened 
cautiously, for the wind was howling and driving 
the snow and sleet about on the winter air. A 



IN A PITTSBURG FACTORY 49 

young girl came in ; she was seeking a lodging. Her 
skirts and shoes were heavy with water. She took 
off her things slowly in a dazed manner. Her short, 
quick breathing showed how excited she was. When 
she spoke at last her voice sounded hollow, her eyes 
moved about restlessly. She stopped abruptly now 
and then and contracted her brows as though in an 
appeal for merciful tears ; then she continued in the 
same broken, husky voice : 

" I suppose I'm not the only one in trouble. I Ve 
thought a thousand times over that I would kill 
myself. I suppose I loved him but I hate him 
now." 

These two sentences, recurring, were the story's 
all. 

The impotence of rebellion, a sense of outrage at 
being abandoned, the instinctive appeal for protec- 
tion as a right, the injustice of being left solely to bear 
the burden of responsibility which so long as it was 
pleasure had been shared these were the thoughts 
and feelings breeding hatred. 

She had spent the day in a fruitless search for her 
lover. She had been to his boss and to his rooms. 
He had paid his debts and gone, nobody knew 
where. She was pretty, vain, homeless; alone to 
bear the responsibility she had not been alone to 
incur. She could not shirk it as the man had done. 
They had both disregarded the law. On whom were 
the consequences weighing more heavily? On the 



50 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

woman. She is the sufferer; she is the first to miss 
the law's protection. She is the weaker member 
whom, for the sake of the race, society protects. 
Nature has made her man's physical inferior; society 
is obliged to recognize this in the giving of a marriage 
law which beyond doubt is for the benefit of woman, 
since she can least afford to disregard it. 

Another evening when the matron was out I sat 
for a time with a young working woman and her 
baby. There is a comradeship among the poor that 
makes light of indiscreet questions. I felt only 
sympathy in asking : 

" Are you alone to bring up your child?" 

"Yes, ma'am," was the answer. "I'll never go 
home with him.'" 

I looked at him : a wizened, four-months-old infant 
with a huge flat nose, and two dull black eyes fixed 
upon the gas jet. The girl had the grace of a forest- 
born creature; she moved with the mysterious 
strength and suppleness of a tree's branch. She 
was proud; she felt herself disgraced. For four 
months she had not left the house. I talked on, 
proposing different things. 

"I don't know what to do," she said. "I can't 
never go home with him, and if I went home without 
him I'd never be the same. I don't know what I'd 
do if anything happened to him. 11 Her head bowed 
over the child ; she held him close to her breast. 

But to return to the coloured cook and my day in 



IN A PITTSBURG FACTORY 51 

the kitchen. I had ample opportunity to compare 
domestic service with factory work. We set the 
table for two hundred, and do a thousand miserable 
slavish tasks that must be begun again the 
following day. At twelve the two hundred troop 
in, toil-worn and begrimed. They pass like 
locusts, leaving us sixteen hundred dirty dishes 
to wash up and wipe. This takes us four hours, 
and when we have finished the work stands 
ready to be done over the next morning with 
peculiar monotony. In the factory there is stimulus 
in feeling that the material which passes through 
one's hands will never be seen or heard of again. 

On Saturday the owner of the factory comes at 
lunch time with several friends and talks to us with 
an amazing camaraderie. He is kindly, humourous 
and tactful. One or two missionaries speak after 
him, but their conversation is too abstract for us. 
We want something dramatic, imaginative, to hold 
our attention, or something wholly natural. Tell 
us about the bees, the beavers or the toilers of the 
sea. The longing for flowers has often come to me 
as I work, and a rose seems of all things the most 
desirable. In my present condition I do not hark 
back to civilized wants, but repeatedly my mind 
travels toward the country places I have seen in the 
fields and forests. If I had a holiday I would spend 
it seeing not what man but what God has made. 
These are the things to be remembered in addressing 



52 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

or trying to amuse or instruct girls who are no more 
prepared than I felt myself to be for any precon- 
ceived ideal of art or ethics. The omnipresence of 
dirt and ugliness, of machines and " stock, " leave the 
mind in a state of lassitude which should be roused 
by something natural. As an initial remedy for the 
ills I voluntarily assumed I would propose amuse- 
ment. Of all the people who spoke to us that 
Saturday, we liked best the one who made us 
laugh. It was a relief to hear something funny. In 
working as an outsider in a factory girls' club I had 
always held that nothing was so important as to 
give the poor something beautiful to look at and 
think about a photograph or copy of some chef 
doeuvre, an objet d'art, lessons in literature and 
art which would uplift their souls from the dreariness 
of their surroundings. Three weeks as a factory 
girl had changed my beliefs. If the young society 
women who sacrifice one evening every week to talk 
to the poor in the slums about Shakespeare and 
Italian art would instead offer diversion first a 
play, a farce, a humourous recitation they would 
make much more rapid progress in winning the 
confidence of those whom they want to help. The 
working woman who has had a good laugh is more 
ready to tell what she needs and feels and fears than 
the woman who has been forced to listen silently to an 
abstract lesson. In society when we wish to make 
friends with people we begin by entertaining them. 



IN A PITTSBURG FACTORY 53 

It should be the same way with the poor. Next to 
amusement as a means of giving temporary relief 
and bringing about relations which will be helpful to 
all, I put instruction, in the form of narrative, about 
the people of other countries, our fellow man, how 
he lives and works ; and, third, under this same head, 
primitive lessons about animals and plants, the 
industries of the bees, the habits of ants, the natural 
phenomena which require no reasoning power to 
understand and which open the thoughts upon a 
delightful unknown vista. 

My first experience is drawing to its close. I have 
surmounted the discomforts of insufficient food, of 
dirt, a bed without sheets, the strain of hard manual 
labour. I have confined my observations to life 
and conditions in the factory. Owing, as I have 
before explained, to the absorption of factory life 
into city life in a place as large as Pittsburg, it 
seemed to me more profitable to centre my attention 
on the girl within the factory, leaving for a small 
town the study of her in her family and social life. 
I have pointed out as they appeared to me woman's 
relative force as a worker and its effects upon her 
economic advancement. I have touched upon two 
cases which illustrate her relative dependence on 
the law. She appeared to me not as the equal of 
man either physically or legally. It remained to 
study her socially. In the factory where I worked 
men and women were employed for ten-hour days. 



54 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

The women's highest wages were lower than the 
man's lowest. Both were working as hard as they 
possibly could. The women were doing menial 
work, such as scrubbing, which the men refused to 
do. The men were properly fed at noon; the 
women satisfied themselves with cake and pickles. 
Why was this? It is of course impossible to gen- 
eralize on a single factory. I can only relate the 
conclusions I drew from what I saw myself. The 
wages paid by employers, economists tell us, are 
fixed at the level of bare subsistence. This level 
and its accompanying conditions are determined by 
competition, by the nature and number of labourers 
taking part in the competition. In the masculine 
category I met but one class of competitor: the 
bread-winner. In the feminine category I found 
a variety of classes: the bread-winner, the semi- 
bread-winner, the woman who works for luxuries. 
This inevitably drags the wage level. The self- 
supporting girl is in competition with the child, with 
the girl who lives at home and makes a small con- 
tribution to the household expenses, and with the 
girl who is supported and who spends all her money 
on her clothes. It is this division of purpose which 
takes the "spirit" out of them as a class. There will 
be no strikes among them so long as the question 
of wages is not equally vital to them all. It is not 
only nature and the law which demand protection 
for women, but society as well. In every case of 



IN A PITTSBURG FACTORY 55 

the number I investigated, if there were sons, 
daughters or a husband in the family, the mother 
was not allowed to work. She was wholly protected. 
In the families where the father and brothers were 
making enough for bread and butter, the daughters 
were protected partially or entirely. There is no 
law which regulates this social protection: it is 
voluntary, and it would seem to indicate that 
civilized woman is meant to be an economic depen- 
dent. Yet, on the other hand, what is the new force 
which impels girls from their homes into the factories 
to work when they do not actually need the money 
paid them for their effort and sacrifice? Is it a 
move toward some far distant civilization when 
women shall have become man's physical equal, a 
"free, economic, social factor, making possible the 
full social combination of individuals in collective 
industry" ? This is a matter for speculation only. 
What occurred to me as a possible remedy both for 
the oppression of the woman bread-winner and also 
as a betterment for the girl who wants to work 
though she does not need the money, was this: the 
establishment of schools where the esthetic branches 
of industrial art might be taught to the girls who by 
their material independence could give some leisure 
to acquiring a profession useful to themselves and 
to society in general. The whole country would be 
benefited by the opening of such schools as the 
Empress of Russia has patronized for the main- 



56 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

tenance of the "petites industries," or those which 
Queen Margherita has established for the revival of 
lace-making in Italy. If there was such a counter- 
attraction to machine labour, the bread-winner 
would have a freer field and the non-bread-winner 
might still work for luxury and at the same time 
better herself morally, mentally and esthetically. 
She could aid in forming an intermediate class of 
labourers which as yet does not exist in America: 
the hand-workers, the main d'oeuvre who produce 
the luxurious objects of industrial art for which we 
are obliged to send to Europe when we wish to 
beautify our homes. 

The American people are lively, intelligent, capable 
of learning anything. The schools of which I speak, 
founded, not for the manufacturing of the useful but 
of the beautiful, could be started informally as 
classes and by individual effort. Such labour would 
be paid more than the mechanical factory work ; the 
immense importation from abroad of objects of 
industrial art sufficiently proves the demand for them 
in this country; there would be no material disad- 
vantage for the girl who gave up her job in a pickle 
factory. Her faculties would be well employed, and 
she could, without leaving her home, do work which 
would be of esthetic and, indirectly, of moral value. 

I was discouraged at first to see how difficult it 
was to help the working girls as individuals and how 
still more difficult to help them as a class. There is 



IN A PITTSBURG FACTORY 57 

perhaps no surer way of doing this than by giving 
opportunities to those who have a purpose and a 
will. No amount of openings will help the girl who 
has not both of these. I watched many girls with 
intelligence and energy who were unable to develop 
for the lack of a chance a start in the right direction. 
Aside from the few remedies I have been able to 
suggest, I would like to make an appeal for persistent 
sympathy in behalf of those whose misery I have 
shared. Until some marvelous advancement has 
been made toward the reign of justice upon earth, 
every man, woman and child should have constantly 
in his heart the sufferings of the poorest. 

On the evening when I left the factory for the last 
time, I heard in the streets the usual cry of mur- 
ders, accidents and suicides : the mental food of the 
overworked. It is Saturday night. I mingle with a 
crowd of labourers homeward bound, and with 
women and girls returning from a Saturday sale in 
the big shops. They hurry along delighted at the 
cheapness of a bargain, little dreaming of the human 
effort that has produced it, the cost of life and 
energy it represents. As they pass, they draw 
their skirts aside from us, the labourers who have 
made their bargains cheap ; from us, the cooperators 
who enable them to have the luxuries they do ; from 
us, the multitude who stand between them and the 
monster Toil that must be fed with human lives. 
Think of us, as we herd to our work in the winter 



58 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

dawn; think of us as we bend over our task all 
the daylight without rest; think of us at the end 
of the day as we resume suffering and anxiety in 
homes of squalour and ugliness ; think of us as we 
make our wretched try for merriment; think of 
us as we stand protectors between you and the 
labour that must be done to satisfy your material 
demands; think of us be merciful. 




" WAVING ARMS OF SMOKE AND STEAM, A SYMBOL OF SPEN' 
ENERGY, OF THE LIVES CONSUMED, AND VANISHING AGAIN " 

Factories on the Alleghany River at the i6th Street bridge, just below 
the pickle works 



PERRY, A NEW YORK MILL TOWN 



CHAPTER III 
PERRY, A NEW YORK MILL TOWN 

No place in America could have afforded better 
than Pittsburg a chance to study the factory life of 
American girls, the stimulus of a new country upon 
the labourers of old races, the fervour and energy 
of a people animated by hope and stirred to activity 
by the boundless opportunities for making money. 
It is the labourers' city par excellence; and in my 
preceding chapters I have tried to give a clear 
picture of factory li^e between the hours of seven 
and six, of the economic conditions, of the natural 
social and legal equipment of woman as a working 
entity, of her physical, moral and esthetic develop- 
ment. 

Now, since the time ticked out between the morn- 
ing summoning whistle to that which gives release 
at night is not half the day, and only two-thirds 
of the working hours, my second purpose has been 
to find a place where the factory girl's own life 
could best be studied: her domestic, religious and 
sentimental life. 

Somewhere in the western part of New York State, 
one of my comrades at the pickle works had told me, 

61 



62 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

there was a town whose population was chiefly 
composed of mill-hands. The name of the place 
was Perry, and I decided upon it as offering the 
typical American civilization among the working 
classes. New England is too free of grafts to give 
more than a single aspect; Pittsburg is an inter- 
national bazaar; but the foundations of Perry are 
laid with bricks from all parts of the world, held 
together by a strong American cement. 

Ignorant of Perry further than as it exists, a black 
spot on a branch of a small road near Buffalo, I set 
out from New York toward my destination on the 
Empire State Express. There was barely time to 
descend with my baggage at Rochester before the 
engine had started onward again, trailing behind it 
with world-renowned rapidity its freight of travelers 
who, for a few hours under the car's roof, are united 
by no other common interest than that of journeying 
quickly from one spot to another, where they disperse 
never to meet again. My Perry train had an alto- 
gether different character. I was late for it, but the 
brakeman saw me coming and waved to the engineer 
not to start until my trunk was checked and safely 
boarded like myself. Then we bumped our way 
through meadows quickened to life by the soft 
spring air ; we halted at crossroads to pick up stray 
travelers and shoppers; we unloaded plowing 
machines and shipped crates of live fowl; we 
waited at wayside stations with high-sounding names 



PERRY," A NEW YORK MILL TOWN 63 

for family parties whose unpunctuality was indul- 
gently considered by the occupants of the train. 

My companions, chiefly women, were of the 
homely American type whose New England drawl 
has been modified by a mingling of foreign accents. 
They took advantage of this time for "visiting" with 
neighbours whom the winter snows and illnesses 
had rendered inaccessible. Their inquiries for each 
other were all kindliness and sympathy, and the 
peaceful, tolerant, uneventful way in which we 
journeyed from Rochester to Perry was a symbol of 
the way in which these good people had journeyed 
across life. Perry, the terminus of the line, was a 
frame station lodged on stilts in a sea of surround- 
ing mud. When the engine had come to a standstill 
and ceased to pant, when the last truck had been 
unloaded, the baggage room closed, there were no 
noises to be heard except those that came from a 
neighbouring country upon whose peace the small 
town had not far encroached; the splash of a horse 
and buggy through the mud, a monotonous voice 
mingling with the steady tick of the telegraph 
machine, some distant barnyard chatter, and the 
mysterious, invisible stir of spring shaking out upon 
the air damp sweet odours calling the earth to colour 
and life. Descending the staircase which connected 
the railroad station with the hill road on which it 
was perched, I joined a man who was swinging along 
in rubber boots, with several farming tools, rakes 



64 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

and hoes, slung over his shoulder. A repugnance I 
had felt in resuming my toil-worn clothes had led me 
to make certain modifications which I feared in so 
small a town as Perry might relegate me to the class 
I had voluntarily abandoned. The man in rubber 
boots looked me over as I approached, bag in hand, 
and to my salutation he replied : 

" Going down to the mill, I suppose. There's lots 
o' ladies comes in the train every day now." 

He was the perfection of tact ; he placed me in 
one sentence as a mill-hand and a lady. 

"I'll take you down as far as Main Street," he 
volunteered, giving me at once a feeling of kindly 
interest which " city folks" have not time to show. 

We found our way by improvised crossings through 
broad, soft beds of mud. Among the branches of 
the sap-fed trees which lined the unpaved streets 
transparent balls of glass were suspended, from 
which, as twilight deepened, a brilliant artificial 
light shot its rays, the perfection of modern inven- 
tion, over the primitive, unfinished little town of 
Perry, which was all contrast and energy, crudity 
and progress. 

"There's a lot of the girls left the mill yesterday," 
my companion volunteered. "They cut the wages, 
and some of the oldest hands got right out. There's 
more than a thousand of 'em on the pay-roll, but I 
guess you can make good money if you're ready to 
work." 



PERRY, A NEW YORK MILL TOWN 65 

We had reached Main Street, which, owing to the 
absence of a trolley, had retained a certain individu- 
ality. The rivers of mud broadened out into a 
sea, flanked by a double row of two-story, flat-roofed 
frame stores, whose monotony was interrupted by 
a hotel and a town hall. My guide stopped at a 
corner butcher shop. Its signboard was a couple 
of mild-eyed animals hanging head downward, pre- 
sented informally, with their skins untouched, and 
having more the appearance of some ill-treated 
pets than future beef and bouillon for the Perry 
population. 

" Follow the boardwalk ! " was the simple com- 
mand I received. ''Keep right along until you 
come to the mill." 

I presently fell in with a drayman, who was call- 
ing alternately to his horse as it sucked in and 
out of the mud and to a woman on the plank 
walk. She had on a hat with velvet and ostrich 
plumes, a black frock, a side bag with a lace 
handkerchief. She was not young and she wore 
spectacles; but there was something nervous about 
her step, a slight tremolo as she responded to the 
drayman, which suggested an adventure or the hope 
of it. The boardwalk, leading inevitably to the 
mill, announced our common purpose and saved 
us an introduction. 

"Going down to get work?" was the question we 
simultaneously asked of each other. My companion, 



66 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

all eagerness, shook out the lace handkerchief in her 
side bag and explained : 

"I don't have to work; my folks keep a hotel; but 
I always heard so much about Perry I thought I'd 
like to come up, and," she sighed, with a flirt of the 
lace handkerchief and a contented glance around 
at the rows of white frame houses, "I'm up now." 

"Want board ?" the drayman called to me. "You 
kin count on me for a good place. There's Doctor 
Meadows, now ; he's got a nice home and he just 
wants two boarders." 

The middle-aged woman with the glasses glanced 
up quickly. 

"Doctor Meadows of Tittihute?" she asked. "I 
wont go there; he's too strict. He's a Methodist 
minister. You couldn't have any fun at all." 

I followed suit, denouncing Doctor Killjoy as she 
had, hoping that her nervous, frisky step would lead 
me toward the adventure she was evidently seeking. 

"Well," the drayman responded indulgently, "I 
guess Mr. Norse will know the best place for you 
folks." 

We had come at once to the factory and the end 
of the boardwalk. It was but a few minutes before 
Mr. Norse had revealed himself as the pivot, the 
human hub, the magnet around which the mechanism 
of the mill revolved and clung, sure of finding its 
proper balance. Tall, lank and meager, with a 
wrinkled face and a furtive mustache, Mr. Norse 



PERRY, A NEW YORK MILL TOWN 67 

made his rounds with a list of complaints and com- 
ments in one hand, a pencil in the other and a black 
cap on his head which tipped, indulgent, attentive 
to hear and overhear. His manner was professional. 
He looked at us, placed us, told us to return at one 
o'clock, recommended a boarding-house, and, on his 
way to some other case, sent a small boy to accom- 
pany us on future stretches of boardwalk to our 
lodgings. The street we followed ended in a rolling 
hillside, and beyond was the mysterious blue that 
holds something of the infinite in its mingling of 
clouds and shadows. The Geneseo Valley lay near 
us like a lake under the sky, and silhouetted against 
it were the factory chimney and buildings. The 
wood's edge came close to the town, whose yards 
prolong themselves into green meadows and farming 
lands. We knocked at a rusty screen door and 
were welcomed with the cordiality of the country 
woman to whom all folks are neighbours, all strangers 
possible boarders. The house, built without mantel- 
piece or chimney, atoned for this cheerlessness with a 
large parlour stove, whose black arms carried warmth 
through floor and ceiling. A table was spread in the 
dining-room. A loud-ticking clock with a rusty 
bell marked the hour from a shelf on the wall, and 
out of the kitchen, seen in vista, came a spluttering 
sound of frying food. Our hostess took us into 
the parlour. Several family pictures of stony-eyed 
women and men with chin beards, and a life-sized 



68 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

Frances Willard in chromo, looked down at our 
ensuing interview. 

Board, lodging, heat and light we could have at 
$2.75 a week. Before the husky clock had struck 
twelve, I was installed in a small room with the 
middle-aged woman from Batavia and a second 
unknown roommate. 

Now what, I asked myself, is the mill's attraction 
and what is the power of this small town? Its 
population is 3,346. Of these, 1,000 work in the 
knitting-mill, 200 more in a cutlery factory and 
300 in various flour, butter, barrel, planing mills and 
salt blocks. Half the inhabitants are young hands. 
Not one in a hundred has a home in Perry; they 
have come from all western parts of the State to work. 
There are scarcely any children, few married couples 
and almost no old people. It is a town of youthful 
contemporaries, stung with the American's ambition 
for independence and adventure, charmed by the 
gaiety of being boys and girls together, with an ever 
possible touch of romance which makes the hardest 
work seem easy. Within the four board walls of 
each house, whose type is repeated up and down 
Perry streets, there is a group of factory employees 
boarding and working at the mill. Their names 
suggest a foreign parentage, but for several genera- 
tions they have mingled their diverse energies in a 
common effort which makes Americans of them. 

As I lived for several weeks among a group of this 



PERRY, A NEW YORK MILL TOWN 69 

kind, who were fairly representative, I shall try to 
give, through a description of their life and conversa- 
tion, their personalities and characteristics, their 
occupations out of working hours, a general idea of 
these unknown toilers, who are so amazingly like 
their more fortunate sisters that I became convinced 
the difference is only superficial not one of kind 
but merely of variety. The Perry factory girl is 
separated from the New York society girl, not by a 
few generations, but by a few years of culture and 
training. In America, where tradition and family 
play an unimportant part, the great educator is the 
spending of money. It is through the purchase of 
possessions that the Americans develop their taste, 
declare themselves, and show their inherent capacity 
for culture. Give to the Perry mill-hands a free 
chance for growth, transplant them, care for them, 
and they will readily show how slight and how merely 
a thing of culture the difference is between the wild 
rose and the American beauty. 

What were my first impressions of the hands who 
returned at noon under the roof which had extended 
unquestioning its hospitality ? Were they a band of 
slaves, victims to toil and deprivation ? Were they 
making the pitiful exchange of their total vitality 
for insufficient nourishment? Did life mean to 
them merely the diminishing of their forces? 

On the contrary, they entered gay, laughing 
young, a youth guarded intact by freedom and 



70 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

hope. What were the subjects of conversation 
pursued at dinner? Love, labour, the price paid 
for it, the advantages of town over country life, the 
neighbour and her conduct. What was the appear- 
ance of my companions? There was nothing in it 
to shock good taste. Their hands and feet were 
somewhat broadened by work, their skins were 
imperfect for the lack of proper food, their dresses 
were of coarse material; but in small things the 
differences were superficial only. Was it, then, in 
big things that the divergence began which places 
them as a lower class? Was it money alone that 
kept them from the places of authority? What 
were their ambitions, their perplexities? What 
part does self-respect play? How well satisfied are 
they, or how restless? What can we learn from 
them? What can we teach them? 

We ate our dinner of boiled meat and custard pie 
and all started back in good time for a one o'clock 
beginning at the mill. For the space of several 
hundred feet its expressionless red brick walls lined 
the street, implacable, silent. Within all hummed 
to the collective activity of a throng, each working 
with all his force for a common end. Machines 
roared and pounded; a fine dust filled the air a 
cloud of lint sent forth from the friction of thousands 
of busy hands in perpetual contact with the shapeless 
anonymous garments they were fashioning. There 
were, on their way between the cutting- and the 




:< THEY TRIFLE WITH LOVE*' 



PERRY, A NEW YORK MILL TOWN 71 

finishing-rooms, 7,000 dozen shirts. They were to 
pass by innumerable hands ; they were to be held and 
touched by innumerable individuals; they were to 
be begun and finished by innumerable human beings 
with distinct tastes and likings, abilities and failings ; 
and when the 7,000 dozen shirts were complete they 
were to look alike, and they were to look as though 
made by a machine; they were to show no trace 
whatever of the men and the women who had made 
them. Here we were, 1,000 souls hurrying from 
morning until night, working from seven until six, 
with as little personality as we could, with the 
effort to produce, through an action purely mechan- 
ical, results as nearly as possible identical one to the 
other, and all to the machine itself. 

What could be the result upon the mind and 
health of this frantic mechanical activity devoid of 
thought ? It was this for which I sought an answer ; 
it is for this I propose a remedy. 

At the threshold of the mill door my roommate 
and I encountered Mr. Norse. There was irony in 
the fates allotted us. She was eager to make 
money; I was indifferent. Mr. Norse felt her in his 
power; I felt him in mine. She was given a job at 
twenty-five cents a day and all she could make; I 
was offered the favourite work in the mill shirt 
finishing, at thirty cents a day and all I could make ; 
and when I shook my head to see how far I could 
exploit my indifference and said, "Thirty cents is 



72 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

too little," Mr. Norse's answer was: "Well, I 
suppose you, like the rest of us, are trying to earn a 
living. I will guarantee you seventy-five cents a 
day for the first two weeks, and all you can make 
over it is yours." My apprenticeship began under 
the guidance of an "old girl" who had been five 
years in the mill. A dozen at a time the woolen 
shirts were brought to us, complete all but the adding 
of the linen strips in front where the buttons and 
buttonholes are stitched. The price of this opera- 
tion is paid for the dozen shirts five, five and a half 
and six cents, according to the complexity of the 
finish. My instructress had done as many as forty 
dozen in one day; she averaged $1.75 a day all the 
year around. While she was teaching me the factory 
paid her at the rate of ten cents an hour. 

A touch of the machine's pedal set the needle to 
stitching like mad. A second touch in the opposite 
direction brought it to an abrupt standstill. For 
the five hours of my first afternoon session there 
was not an instant's harmony between what I did 
and what I intended to do. I sewed frantically into 
the middle of shirts. I watched my needle, impotent 
as it flew up and down, and when by chance I made 
a straight seam I brought it to so sudden a stop 
that the thread raveled back before my weary 
eyes. When my back and fingers ached so that I 
could no longer bend over the work, I watched 
my comrades with amazement. The machine was 



PERRY, A NEW YORK MILL TOWN 73 

not a wild animal in their hands, but an instrument 
that responded with niceness to their guidance. 
Above the incessant roar and burring din they called 
gaily to each other, gossiping, chatting, telling 
stories. What did they talk about? Everything, 
except domestic cares. The management of an 
interior, housekeeping, cooking were things I never 
once heard mentioned. What were the favourite 
topics, those returned to most frequently and with 
surest interest ? Dress and men. Two girls in the 
seaming-room had got into a quarrel that day over 
a packer, a fine looking, broad-shouldered fellow 
who had touched the hearts of both and awakened 
in each an emotion she claimed the right to defend. 
The quarrel began lightly with an exchange of 
unpleasant comment; it soon took the proportions 
of a dispute which could not give itself the desired 
vent in words alone. The boss was called in. He 
made no attempt t*> control what lay beyond his 
power, but applying factory legislation to the case, 
he ordered the two Amazons to "register out" until 
the squabble was settled, as the factory did not 
propose to pay its hands for the time spent in fights. 
So the two girls "rang out" past the timekeeper 
and took an hour in the open air, hand to hand, 
fist to fist, which, as it happens to man, had its 
calming effect. 

We stitched our way industriously over the 7,000 
dozen. Except for the moments when some girl 



74 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

called a message or shouted a conversation, there was 
nothing to occupy the mind but the vibrating, 
pulsing, pounding of the machinery. The body 
was shaken with it ; the ears strained. 

The little girl opposite me was a new hand. Her 
rosy cheeks and straight shoulders announced this 
fact. She had been five months in the mill; the 
other girls around her had been there two years, 
five years, nine years. There were 150 of us at the 
long, narrow tables which filled the room. By the 
windows the light and air were fairly good. At the 
centre tables the atmosphere was stagnant, the 
shadows came too soon. The wood's edge ran 
within a few yards of the factory windows. Between 
it and us lay the stream, the water force, the power 
that had called men to Perry. There, as everywhere 
in America, for an individual as for a place, the 
attraction was industrial possibilities. As Niagara 
has become more an industrial than a picturesque 
landscape, so Perry, in spite of its serene and 
beautiful surroundings, is a shrine to mechanical 
force in whose temple, the tall-chimneyed mill, a 
human sacrifice is made to the worshipers of gain. 

My vis-a-vis was talkative. "Say," she said to 
her neighbour, "Jim Weston is the worst flirt I ever 



seen." 



"Who's Jim Weston?" the other responded, 
diving into the box by her side for a handful of gray 
woolen shirts. 



PERRY, A NEW YORK MILL TOWN 75 

" Why, he's the one who made my teeth he made 
teeth for all of us up home," and her smile reveals the 
handiwork of West on. 

" If I had false teeth," is the comment made upon 
this, " I wouldn't tell anybody." 

"I thought some," continues the implacable new 
girl, unruffled, " of having a gold filling put in one of 
my front teeth. I think gold fillings are so pretty," 
she concludes, looking toward me for a response. 

This primitive love of ornament I found manifest 
in the same medico-barbaric fancy for wearing eye- 
glasses. The nicety of certain operations in the mill, 
performed not always in the brightest of lights, is 
a fatal strain upon the eyes. There are no oculists 
in Perry, but a Buffalo member of the profession 
makes a monthly visit to treat a new harvest of 
patients. Their daily effort toward the monthly 
finishing of 40,000 garments permanently diminishes 
their powers of vision. Every thirty days a new set 
of girls appears with glasses. They wear them as 
they would an ornament of some kind, a necklace, 
bracelet or a hoop through the nose. 

When the six o'clock whistle blew on the first 
night I had finished only two dozen shirts. "You've 
got a good job," my teacher said, as we came out 
together in the cool evening air. "You seem to be 
taking to it." They size a girl up the minute she 
comes in. If she has quick motions she'll get on 
all right. "I guess you'll make a good finisher." 



76 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

Once more we assembled to eat and chat and relax. 
After a moment by the kitchen pump we took our 
places at table. Our hostess waited upon us. "It 
takes some grit," she explained, "and more grace to 
keep boarders." Except on Sundays, when all men 
might be considered equals in the sight of the Lord, 
she and her husband did not eat until we had finished. 
She passed the dishes of our frugal evening meal 
potatoes, bread and butter and cake and as we 
served ourselves she held her head in the opposite 
direction, as if to say, "I'm not looking; take the 
biggest piece." 

It was with my roommates I became the soonest 
jcquainted. The butcher's widow from Batavia 
was a grumbler. "How do you like your job?" I 
asked her as we fumbled about in the dim light of 
our low-roofed room. 

"Oh, Lordy," was the answer, "I didn't think it 
would be like this. I'd rather do housework any 
day. I bet you won't stay two weeks." She was 
ugly and stupid. She had been married young to 
a butcher. Left alone to battle with the world, she 
might have shaken out some of her dullness, but the 
butcher for many years had stood between her and 
reality, casting a still deeper shadow on her ignorance. 
She had the monotony of an old child, one who 
questions constantly but who has passed the age 
when learning is possible. The butcher's death had 
opened new possibilities . After a period of respectful 



PERRY, A NEW YORK MILL TOWN 77 

mourning, she had set out, against the wishes of 
her family, with a vague, romantic hope that was 
expressed not so much in words as in a certain 
picture hat trimmed with violet chiffon and carried 
carefully in a bandbox by itself, a new, crisp sateen 
petticoat, and a golf skirt she had sat up until one 
o'clock to finish the night before she left home. It 
was inevitable that the butcher's widow should be 
disappointed. There was too much grim reality in 
ten-hour days spent over a machine in the stifling 
mill room to feed a sentimentalist whose thirty odd 
years were no accomplice to romance. She grumbled 
and complained. Secret dissatisfaction preyed upon 
her. She was somewhat exasperated at the rest of 
us, who worked cheerily and with no arriere pensee. 
At the end of the first week the picture hat was 
tucked away in the bandbox; the frou-frou of the 
sateen petticoat and the daring swish of the golf 
skirt were packed up, like the remains of a bubble 
that had reflected the world in its brilliant sides one 
moment and the next lay a little heap of soap-suds. 
She had gone behind in her work steadily at the 
factory ; she was not making more than sixty cents a 
day. She left us and went back to do housework in 
Batavia. 

My other roommate was of the Madonna type. 
In our class she would have been called an invalid. 
Her hands trembled, she was constantly in pain, and 
her nerves were rebellious without frequent doses of 



78 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

bromide. We found her one night lying in a heap 
on the bed, her moans having called us to her aid. 
It was the pain in her back that never stopped, the 
ache between her shoulders, the din of the machines 
in her ears, the vibration, the strain of incessant 
hours upon her tired nerves. We fixed her up as 
best we could, and the next day at quarter before 
seven she was, like the rest of us, bending over her 
machine again. She had been a school-teacher, after 
passing the necessary examination at the Geneseo 
Normal School. She could not say why school- 
teaching was uncongenial to her, except that the 
children "made her nervous" and she wanted to try 
factory work. Her father was a cheese manu- 
facturer up in the Genesee Valley. She might have 
lived quietly at home, but she disliked to be a 
dependent. She was of the mystic, sentimental type. 
She had a broad forehead, straight auburn hair, a 
clear-cut mouth, whose sharp curves gave it sweet- 
ness. Though her large frame indicated clearly an 
Anglo-Saxon lineage, there was nothing of the sport 
about her. She had never learned to skate or swim, 
but she could sit and watch the hills all day long. 
Her clothes had an esthetic touch. Mingled with 
her nervous determination there was a sentimental 
yearning. She was an idealist, impelled by some 
controlling emotion which was the mainspring of 
her life. 

Little by little we became friends. Our common 



PERRY, A NEW YORK MILL TOWN 79 

weariness brought us often together after supper in 
a listless, confidential mood before the parlour stove. 
We let the conversation drift inevitably toward the 
strong current that was marking her with a touch 
of melancholy, like all those of her type whose 
emotional natures are an enchanted mirror, reflecting 
visions that have no place in reality. We talked 
about blondes and brunettes, tall men and short 
men, our favourite man's name; and gradually the 
impersonal became personal, the ideal took form. 
Her voice, like a broken lute that might have given 
sweet sounds, related the story. It was inevitable 
that she should love a dreamer like herself. Nature 
had imbued her with a hopeless yearning. She 
slipped a gold locket from a chain on her throat. It 
framed her hero's picture, the source of her courage, 
the embodiment of her heroic energy: a man of 
thirty, who had failed at everything; good-looking, 
refined, a personage in real life who resembled the 
inhabitants of her enchanted mirror. In the story 
she told there were stars and twilight, summer 
evenings, walks, talks, hopes and vague projects. 
Any practical questions I felt ready to ask would 
have sounded coarse. The little school-teacher 
with shattered nerves embodied a hope that was 
more to her than meat and drink and money. She 
was of those who do not live by bread alone. 

Among the working population of Perry there are 
all manner of American characteristics manifest. 



8o THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

In a country where conditions change with such 
rapidity that each generation is a revelation to the 
one which preceded it, it is inevitable that the family 
and the State should be secondary to the individual. 
We live with our own generation, with our contem- 
poraries. We substitute experience for tradition. 
Each generation lives for itself during its prime. As 
soon as its powers begin to decline it makes way 
with resignation for the next: "We have had our 
day ; now you can have yours." Thus in the impor- 
tant decisions of life, the choosing of a career, matri- 
mony or the like, the average American is much 
more influenced by his contemporaries than by his 
elders, much more stimulated or determined by the 
friends of his own age than by the older members of 
his family. This detaching of generations through 
the evolution of conditions is inevitable in a new 
civilization; it is part of the country's freedom. It 
adds fervour and zest and originality to the effort 
of each. But it means a youth without the peace of 
protection ; an old age without the harvest of conso- 
lation. The man in such a battle as life becomes 
under these circumstances is better equipped than the 
woman, whose nature disarms her for the struggle. 
The American woman is restless, dissatisfied. Soci- 
ety, whether among the highest or lowest classes, 
has driven her toward a destiny that is not normal. 
The factories are full of old maids ; the colleges are 
full of old maids; the ballrooms in the worldly 



PERRY, A NEW YORK MILL TOWN 8x 

centres are full of old maids. For natural obliga- 
tions are substituted the fictitious duties of clubs, 
meetings, committees, organizations, professions, a 
thousand unwomanly occupations. 

I cannot attempt to touch here upon the classes 
who have not a direct bearing on our subject, but the 
analogy is striking between them and the factory 
elements of which I wish to speak. I cannot dwell 
upon details that, while full of interest, are yet some- 
what aside from the present point, but I want to 
state a fact, the origin of whose ugly consequences 
is in all classes and therefore concerns every living 
American woman. Among the American born 
women of this country the sterility is greater, the 
fecundity less than those of any other nation in the 
world, unless it be France, whose anxiety regarding 
her depopulation we would share in full measure 
were it not for the foreign immigration to the United 
States, which counteracts the degeneracy of the 
American.* The original causes for this increasing 
sterility are moral and not physical. When this is 
known, does not the philosophy of the American 
working woman become a subject of vital inter- 
est ? Among the enemies to fecundity and a natu- 
ral destiny there are two which act as potently in 
the lower as in the upper classes: the triumph 
of individualism, the love of luxury. America 

* George Engelman, M. D., " The Increasing Sterility of 
American Women," from the Journal of the American Medical 
Association, October 5, 1901. 



82 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

is not a democracy, the unity of effort between the 
man and the woman does not exist. Men were too 
long in a majority. Women have become autocrats 
or rivals. A phrase which I heard often repeated 
at the factory speaks by itself for a condition: 
"She must be married, because she don't work.'* 
FAnd another phrase pronounced repeatedly by the 
younger girls: "I don't have to work; my father 
gives me all the money I need, but not all the money 
I want. I like to be independent and spend my 
money as I please." 

What are the conclusions to be drawn? The 
)K American-born girl is an egoist. Her whole 
effort (and she makes and sustains one in the 
life of mill drudgery) is for herself. She works 
luxury until the day when a proper husband 
presents himself. Then she stops working and lets 
him toil for both, with the hope that the budget shall 
not be diminished by increasing family demands. 

In those cases where the woman continues to work 
after marriage, she chooses invariably a kind of 
occupation which is inconsistent with child-bearing. 
She returns to the mill with her husband. There 
were a number of married couples at the knitting 
factory at Perry. They boarded, like the rest of us. 
I never saw a baby nor heard of a baby while I was 
in the town. 

I can think of no better way to present this love of 
luxury, this triumph of individualism, this passion 



PERRY, A NEW YORK MILL TOWN 83 

for independence than to continue my account of 
the daily life at Perry. 

On Saturday night we drew our pay and got out 
at half -past four. This extra hour and a half was 
not given to us; we had saved it up by beginning 
each day at fifteen minutes before seven. In reality 
we worked ten and a quarter hours five days in the 
week in order to work eight and a half on the sixth. 

By five o'clock on Saturdays the village street 
was animated with shoppers the stores were 
crowded. At supper each girl had a collect ion of 
purchases to show: stockings, lace, fancy buckles, 
velvet ribbons, elaborate hairpins. Many of them, 
when their board was paid, had less than a dollar left 
of the five or six it had taken them a week to earn. 

"I am not working to save," was the claim 
of one girl for all. " I'm working for pleasure." 

This same girl called me into her room one 
evening when she was packing to move to another 
boarding-house where were more young men and 
better food. I watched her as she put her things 
into the trunk. She had a quantity of dresses, 
underclothes with lace and tucks, ribbons, fancy hair 
ornaments, lace boleros, handkerchiefs. The bot- 
tom of her trunk was full of letters from her beau. 
The mail was always the source of great excitement 
for her, and having noticed that she seemed especially 
hilarious over a letter received that night, I mads 
this the pretext for a confidence. 



84 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

" You got a letter to-night, didn't you?" I asked 
innocently. "Was it the one you wanted?" 

"My, yes," she answered, tossing up a heap of 
missives from the depths of her trunk. * * It was from 
the same one that wrote me these. I've been going 
with him three years. I met him up in the grape 
country where I went to pick grapes. They give 
you your board and you can make twenty-seven or 
thirty dollars in a fall. He made up his mind as 
soon as he saw me that I was about right. Now he 
wants me to marry him. That's what his letter said 
to-night. He is making three dollars a day and he 
owns a farm and a horse and wagon. He bought 
his sister a $300 piano this fall." 

"Well, of course," I said eagerly, "you will accept 
him?" 

She looked half shy, half pleased, half sur- 
prised. 

"No, my! no," she answered, shaking her head. 
" I don't want to be married." 

"But why not? Don't you think you are 
foolish? It's a good chance and you have already 
been 'going with him' three years." 

" Yes, I know that, but I ain't ready to marry him 
yet . Twenty-five is time enough . I'm only twenty- 
three. I can have a good time just as I am. He 
didn't want me to come away and neither did my 
parents. I thought it would 'most kill my father. 
He looked like he'd been sick the day I left, but he 



PERRY, A NEW YORK MILL TOWN 85 

let me come 'cause he knew I'd never be satisfied 
until I got my independence." 

What part did the love of humanity play in this 
young egoist's heart ? She was living, as she had so 
well explained it, "not to save, but to give herself 
pleasure"; not to spare others, but to exercise her 
will in spite of them. Tenderness, reverence, 
gratitude, protection are the feelings which one 
generation awakens for another. Among the thou- 
sand contemporaries at Perry, from the sameness 
of their ambitions, there was inevitable rivalry and 
selfishness. The closer the age and capacity the 
keener the struggle. 

There are seven churches in Perry of seven 
different denominations. In this small town of 
3,000 inhabitants there are seven different forms of 
worship. The church plays an important part in 
the social life of the mill hands. There are 
gatherings of all sorts from one Sunday to 
another, and on Sunday there are almost continuous 
services. There are frequent conversions. When 
the Presbyterian form fails they "try" the 
Baptist. There is no moral instruction; it is all 
purely religious; and they join one church or 
another more as they would a social club than an 
ordained religious organization. 

Friday was "social" night at the church. Some- 
times there was a "poverty" social, when every one 
put on shabby clothes, and any one who wore a 



86 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

correct garment of any sort was fined for the benefit 
of the church. Pound socials were another variety 
of diversion, where all the attendants were weighed 
on arriving and charged a cent admission for every 
pound of avoirdupois. 

The most popular socials, however, were box 
socials, and it was to one of these I decided to go 
with two girls boarding in the house. Each of us 
packed a box with lunch as good as we could afford 
eggs, sandwiches, cakes, pickles, oranges and 
arrived with these, we proceeded to the vestry-room, 
where we found an improvised auctioneer's table 
and a pile of boxes like our own, which were marked 
and presently put up for sale. The youths of the 
party bid cautiously or recklessly, according as their 
inward conviction told them that the box was packed 
by friend or foe. 

My box, which, like the rest, had supper for 
two, was bid in by a tall, nice-looking mill hand, 
and we installed ourselves in a corner to eat and 
talk. He was full of reminiscence and had had 
a checkered career. His first experience had been 
at night work in a paper mill. He worked eleven 
hours a night one week, thirteen hours a night the 
next week, in and out of doors, drenched to the skin. 
He had lost twenty-five pounds in less than a year, 
and his face was a mere mask drawn over the 
irregular bones of the skull. 

11 1 always like whatever I am doing," he responded 



PERRY, A NEW YORK MILL TOWN 87 

at my protestation of sympathy. "I think that's 
the only way to be. I never had much appetite at 
night. They packed me an elegant pail, but some- 
how all cold food didn't relish much. I never did 
like a pail. . . . How would you like to take 
a dead man's place?" he asked, looking at me 
grimly. 

I begged him to explain. 

" One of my best friends," he began, "was working 
alongside of me, and I guess he got dizzy or some- 
thing, for he leaned up against the big belt that ran 
all the machinery and he was lifted right up in the 
air and tore to pieces before he ever knew what struck 
him. The boss came in and seen it, and the second 
question he asked, he says, 'Say, is the machinery 
running all right?' It wasn't ten minutes before 
there was another man in there doing the dead man's 
work." 

I began to undo the lunch-box, feeling very little 
inclined to eat. We divided the contents, and my 
friend, seeing perhaps that I was depressed, told me 
about the " shows" he had been to in his wanderings. 

" Now, I don't care as much for comedy as some 
folks," he explained. " I like ' Puddin' Head Wilson ' 
first rate, but the finest thing I ever seen was two of 
Shakespeare's: ' The Merchant of Venice* and 'Julius 
Caesar.' If you ever get a chance I advise you to go 
and hear them; they're great." 

I responded cordially, and when we had exhausted 



88 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

Shakespeare I asked him how he liked Perry 
people. 

" Oh, first rate," he said. " I've been here only a 
month, but I think there's too much formality. It 
seems to me that when you work alongside of a girl 
day after day you might speak to her without an 
introduction, but they won't let you here. I never 
seen such a formal place." 

I said very little. The boy talked on of his life 
and experiences. His English was good except for 
certain grammatical errors. His words were well 
chosen. There was between him and the fortunate 
boys of a superior class only a few years of 
training. 

The box social was the beginning of a round of 
gaieties. The following night I went with my box- 
social friend to a ball. Neither of us danced, but we 
arrived early and took good places for looking on. 
The barren hall was dimly lighted. In the corner 
there was a stove ; at one end a stage. An old man 
with a chin beard was scattering sand over the floor 
with a springtime gesture of seed sowing. He had 
his hat on and his coat collar turned up, as though to 
indicate that the party had not begun. By and by 
the stage curtain rolled up and the musicians came 
out and unpacked a violin, a trombone, a flute and 
a drum. They sat down in the Medieval street 
painted on the scenery back of them, crossed their 
legs and asked for sol la from an esthetic young 



PERRY, A NEW YORK MILL TOWN 89 

lady pianist, with whom they seemed on very 
familiar terms. The old man with the chin beard 
made an official entree from the wing, picked up 
the drum and became a part of the orchestra. The 
subscribers had begun to arrive, and when the first 
two-step struck up there were eight or ten couples 
on the floor. They held on to each other closely, 
with no outstretched arms as is the usual form, and 
they revolved very slowly around and around the 
room. The young men had smooth faces, patent 
leather boots, very smart cravats and a sheepish, 
self-conscious look. The girls had elaborate con- 
structions in frizzed hair, with bows and tulle ; black 
trailing skirts with coloured ruffled under-petticoats, 
light-coloured blouses and fancy belts. They 
seemed to be having a very good time. 

On the way home we passed a brightly lighted 
grocery shop. My friend looked in with interest. 
" Goodness," he said, "but those Saratoga chips look 
good. Now, what would you order," he went on, 
"if you could have anything you liked?" We 
began to compose a menu with oysters and chicken 
and all the things we never saw, but it was not long 
before my friend cried "Mercy! Oh, stop; I can't 
stand it. It makes me too hungry." 

The moon had gone under a cloud. The wooden 
sidewalks were rough and irregular, and as we 
walked along toward home I tripped once or twice. 
Presently I felt a strong arm put through mine, 



QO THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

with this assurance: "Now if you fall we'll both 
fall together." 

After four or five days' experience with a machine 
I began to work with more ease and with less pain 
between my shoulders. The girls were kind and 
sympathetic, stopping to help and encourage the 
"new girl." One of the shirt finishers, who had 
not been long in the mill herself, came across from 
her table one day when I was hard at work with a 
pain like a sword stab in my back. 

"I know how you ache," she said. "It just 
makes me feel like crying when I see how you keep 
at it and I can guess how tired you are." 

Nothing was so fatiguing as the noise. In certain 
places near the eyelet and buttonhole machines it 
was impossible to make one's neighbour hear without 
shouting. My teacher, whose nerves, I took it, were 
less sensitive than mine, expressed her sensations in 
this way : 

" It's just terrible sitting here all day alone, worry- 
ing and thinking all by yourself and hustling from 
morning until night. Lots of the girls have nervous 
prostration. My sister had it and I guess I'm 
getting it. I hear the noise all night. Quite a few 
have consumption, too, from the dust and the lint." 

The butcher's widow, the school-teacher and I 
started in at about the same time. At the end of 
two weeks the butcher's widow had long been gone. 
The school-teacher had averaged seventy-nine cents 



PERRY, A NEW YORK MILL TOWN 91 

a day and I had averaged eighty-nine. My best 
day I finished sixteen dozen shirts and netted $1.11. 
My board and washing cost me three dollars, so that 
from the first I had a living insured. 

There was one negress in the factory. She 
worked in a corner quite by herself and attended 
to menial jobs, such as sweeping and picking up 
scraps. A great many of the girls and boys took 
correspondence courses in stenography, drawing, 
bookkeeping, illustrating, etc., etc. The purely 
mechanical work of the mill does not satisfy them. 
They are restless and ambitious, exactly the material 
with which to form schools of industrial art, the class 
of hand-workers of whom I have already spoken. 

One of the girls who worked beside us as usual in 
the morning, left a note on her machine at noon one 
day to say that she would never be back. She was 
going up to the lake to drown herself, and we needn't 
look for her. Some one was sent in search. She 
was found sitting at the lake's edge, weeping. 
She did not speak. We all talked about it in our 
leisure moments, but the work was not interrupted. 
There were various explanations : she was out of her 
mind; she was discouraged with her work; she was 
nervous. No one suggested tha* an unfortunate 
love affair be the cause of her desperate act. 
There was not a word breathed against her 
reputation. I would have felt impure in proposing 
what to me seemed most probable. 



92 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

The mill owners exert, as far as possible, an 
influence over the moral tone of their employees, 
assuming the right to judge their conduct both in 
and out of the factory and to treat them as they 
see fit. The average girls are self-respecting. They 
trifle with love. The attraction they wish to exert 
is ever present in their minds and in their conversa- 
tion. The sacrifices they make for clothes are the 
first in importance. They have superstitions of all 
kinds : to sneeze on Saturday means the arrival of a 
beau on Sunday; a big or little tea leaf means a tall 
or a short caller, and so on. There is a book of 
dreams kept on one table in the mill, and the girls 
consult it to find the interpretation of their nocturnal 
reveries. They are fanciful, sentimental, cold, 
passionless. The accepted honesty of married life 
makes them slow to discard the liberty they love, to 
dismiss the suitors who would attend their wedding 
as one would a funeral. 

There is, of course, another category of girl, who 
goes brutally into passionate pleasures, follows the 
shows, drinks and knocks about town with the 
boys. She is known as a "bum," has sacrificed 
name and reputation and cannot remain in the mill. 

We discussed one night the suitable age for a girl 
to become mis' ress of herself. The boy of the house- 
hold maintained that at eighteen a girl could marry, 
but that she must be twenty-one before she could 
have her own way. All the girls insisted that they 



PERRY, A NEW YORK MILL TOWN 93 

could and did boss themselves and had even before 
they were eighteen. 

Two chums who boarded in my house gave a 
charming illustration of the carelessness and the 
extravagance, the independence and love of it which 
characterizes feminine America. One of these was 
a deracinee, a child with a foreign touch in her 
twang; a legend of other climes in the dexterity 
of her deft fingers; some memory of an exile 
from France in her name: Lorraine. Her friend 
was a mondaine. She had the social gift, a subtle 
understanding of things worldly, the glissey mortel 
n'appuyez jamais attitude toward life. By a touch 
of flippancy, an adroit turn of mind, she kept the 
knowing mastery over people which has mystified 
and delighted in all great hostesses since the days 
of Esther. 

When the other girls waited feverishly for love 
letters, she was opening a pile of invitations to socials 
and theatre parties. Discreet and condescending, 
she received more than she gave. 

As soon as the posters were out for a Tuesday 
performance of " Faust," preparations began in 
the household to attend. Saturday shopping and 
supper were hurried through and by six o'clock 
Lorraine was at the sewing machine tucking chiffon 
for hats and bodices. After ten hours' work in the 
mill, she began again, eager to use the last of the 
spring twilight, prolonged by a quarter moon. 



94 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

There was a sudden, belated gust of snow; in the 
blue mist each white frame house glowed with a 
warm, pink light from its parlour stove. Lorraine's 
fingers flew. A hat took form and grew from a 
heap of stuff into a Parisian creation; a bolero was 
cut and tucked and fitted; a skirt was ripped and 
stitched and pressed; a shirt-waist was started and 
finished. For two nights the girls worked until 
twelve o'clock so that when the "show" came they 
might have something new to wear that nobody had 
seen. This must have been the unanimous intention 
of the Perry populace, for the peanut gallery was a 
bower of fashion. Styles, which I had thought 
were new in Paris, were familiarly worn in Perry by 
the mill hands. White kid gloves were en regie. The 
play was " Faust." All allusions to the triumph of 
religion over the devil; all insinuations on the part 
of Mephistopheles in regard to the enviable escape 
of Martha's husband and of husbands in general, 
from prating women in general; all invocations of 
virtue and moral triumph, were greeted with bursts 
of applause. Between the acts there was music, and 
the ushers distributed showers of printed advertise- 
ments, which the audience fell at once to reading 
as though they had nothing to talk about. 

I heard only one hearty comment about the play : 
"That devil," said Lorraine, as we walked home 
together, "was a corker ! " 

I have left -until the last the two friends who held 



PERRY, A NEW YORK MILL TOWN 95 

a place apart in the household: the farmer and his 
wife, the old people of another generation with 
whom we boarded. They had begun life together 
forty years ago. They lived on neighbouring farms. 
There was dissension between the families such as 
we read of in " Pyramus and Thisbe," " Romeo and 
Juliet." The young people contrived a means of 
corresponding. An old coat that hung in the barn, 
where nobody saw it, served as post-office. Truman 
pleaded his cause ardently and won his Louisa. They 
fixed a day for the elopement. A fierce snow- 
storm piled high its drifts of white, but all the after- 
noon long the little bride played about, burrowing a 
path from the garden to her bedroom window, and 
when night came and brought her mounted hero 
with it, she climbed up on to the saddle by his side 
and rode away to happiness, leaving ill nature and 
quarrels far behind. Side by side, as on the night 
of their wedding ride, they had traversed forty years 
together. Ill health had broken up their farm 
home. When Truman could no longer work they 
came in to Perry to take boarders, having no children. 
The old man never spoke. He did chores about the 
house, made the fire mornings, attended to the 
parlour stove ; he went about his work and no one 
ever addressed a word to him; he seemed to have 
no more live contact with the youth about him 
than driftwood has with the tree's new shoots. 
He had lived his life on a farm ; he was a land captain ; 



96 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

he knew the earth's secrets as a ship's captain knows 
the sea's. He paced the mild wooden pavements of 
Perry, booted and capped for storm and wind, deep 
snow and all the inimical elements a pioneer might 
meet with. His new false teeth seemed to shine 
from his shaggy gray beard as a symbol of this new 
town experience in a rough natural existence, out 
of keeping, ill assorted. Tempted to know what 
his silence hid, I spent an hour with him by the 
kitchen stove one Sunday afternoon. His memory 
went easily back to the days when there were no 
railroads, no telegraphs, no mills. He was of a 
speculative turn of mind : 

''I don't see," he said, "what makes men so crazy 
after gold. They're getting worse all the time. Gold 
ain't got no real value. You take all the gold out of 
the world and it wouldn't make no difference what- 
ever. You can't even make a tool to get a living with, 
out of gold; but just do away with the iron, and 
where would you be ? " And again, he volunteered : 

"I think Mr. Carnegie would have done a deal 
nobler if he had paid his men a little more straight 
along. He wouldn't have had such a name for 
himself. But don't you believe it would have been 
better to have paid those men more for the work 
they were doing day by day than it is now to give 
pensions to their families? I know what I think 
about the matter." 

I asked him how he liked city life. 




SUNDAY EVENING AT SILVER LAKE 

The mill girls' excursion resort A special train and 'busses run on Sundays, 
and "everybody" goes. 



PERRY, A NEW YORK MILL TOWN 97 

"Give me a farm every time," was his answer. 
"Once you've seen a town you know it all. It's the 
same over and over again. But the country's 
changing every day in the year. It's a terrible thing, 
being sick," he went on. "It seems sometimes as 
though the pain would tear me to pieces when I 
walk across the floor. I wasn't no good on the 
farm any more, so my wife took a notion we better 
come in town and take boarders." 

Thus it was with this happily balanced couple; 
as his side grew heavier she took on more ballast and 
swung even with him. She had the quick adapta- 
bility common to American women. During the 
years of farm life religious meetings and a few 
neighbours had kept her in touch with the outside 
world. The church and the kitchen were what she 
had on the farm; the church and the kitchen were 
what she had in town; family life supplemented by 
boarders, a social existence kept alive by a few 
faithful neighbours. She had retained her activity 
and sympathy because she was intelligent, because 
she lived with the young. The man could not make 
himself one of another generation, so he lived alone. 
He had lost his companions, the "cow kind and the 
sheep kind" ; he had lost control over the earth that 
belonged to him; he was disused; he suffered; he 
pined. But as they sat together side by side at 
table, his look toward her was one of trust and 
comfort. His glance traveled back over a long 



98 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

vista of years seen to them as their eyes met, invisible 
to those about years that had glorified confidence 
in this life as it passed and transfigured it into the 
promise of another life to come. 



MAKING CLOTHING IN CHICAGO 



CHAPTER IV 
MAKING CLOTHING IN CHICAGO 

ON arriving in Chicago I addressed myself to the 
ladies of Hull House, asking for a tenement family 
who would take a factory girl to board. I intended 
starting out without money to see at least how far 
I could go before putting my hand into the depths 
where an emergency fund was pinned in a black 
silk bag. 

It was the first day of May. A hot wind blew 
eddies of dust up and down the electric car tracks ; 
the streets were alive with children; a group 
swarmed in front of each doorstep, too large to fit 
into the house behind it. Down the long, regular 
avenues that stretched right and left there was a 
broken line of tenements topped by telegraph wires 
and bathed in a soft cloud of black soot falling from 
a chimney in the neighbourhood. The sidewalks 
were a patchwork of dirt, broken paving-stones and 
wooden boards. The sunshine was hot and gloomy. 
There were no names on the corner lamps and the 
house numbers were dull and needed repainting. 
It was already late in the afternoon : I had but an 
hour or two before dark to find a lodging. The 

101 



102 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

miserable, overcrowded tenement houses repelled 
me, yet I dreaded that there should not be room 
among them for one more bread-winner to lodge. I 
hailed a cluster of children in the gutter : 

"Say," I said, "do you know where Mrs. Hicks 
lives to ?" 

They crowded around, eager. The tallest boy, 
with curly red hair and freckles, pointed out Mrs. 
Hicks' residence, the upper windows of a brick flat 
that faced the world like a prison wall. After I had 
rung and waited for the responding click from 
above, a cross-eyed Italian woman with a baby 
in her arms motioned to me from the step where 
she was sitting that I must go down a side alley to 
find Mrs. Hicks. Out of a promiscuous heap of 
filth, a broken-down staircase led upward to a row of 
green blinds and a screen door. Somebody's house- 
keeping was scattered around in torn bits of linen 
and tomato cans. 

The screen door opened to my knock and the 
Hicks family gushed at me ever so many children 
of all ages and an immense mother in an under- 
waist and petticoat. The interior was neat; the 
wooden floors were scrubbed spotless. I congratu- 
lated myself. Mrs. Hicks clucked to the family 
group, smiled at me, and said : 

"I never took a boarder in my life. I ain't got 
room enough for my own young ones, let alone 
strangers." 




" THE BREATH OF THE 
BLACK, SWEET NIGHT 
REACHED THEM, FETID, 

HEAVY WITH THE ODOUR OF DEATH AS 
IT BLEW ACROSS THE STOCKYARDS " 



MAKING CLOTHING IN CHICAGO 103 

There were two more names on my list. I pro- 
ceded to the nearest and found an Irish lady living 
in basement rooms ornamented with green crochet 
work, crayon portraits, red plaid table-cloths and 
chromo picture cards. 

She had rheumatism in her "limbs" and moved 
with difficulty. She was glad to talk the matter 
over, though she had from the first no intention of 
taking me. From my then point of view nothing 
seemed so desirable as a cot in Mrs. Flannagan's 
front parlour. I even offered in my eagerness to 
sleep on the horsehair sofa. Womanlike, she gave 
twenty little reasons for not taking me before she 
gave the one big reason, which was this : 

"Well, to tell you the truth, I wouldn't mind 
having you myself, but I've got three sons, and 
you know boys is queer." 

It was late, the sun had set and only the twilight 
remained for my search before night would be upon 
me and I would be driven to some charity refuge. 

I had one more name, and climbed to find its 
owner in a tenement flat. She was a German woman 
with a clubfoot. Two half -naked children incrusted 
with dirt were playing on the floor. They waddled 
toward me as I asked what my chances were for 
finding a room and board. The mother struck first 
one, then the other, of her offspring, and they fell 
into two little heaps, both wailing. From a hole 
back of the kitchen came the sympathetic response 



104 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

of a half-starved shaggy dog. He howled and the 
babes wailed while we visited the dusky apartment. 
There was one room rented to a day lodger who 
worked nights, and one room without a window 
where the German family slept. She proposed that 
I share the bed with her that night until she could 
get an extra cot. Her husband and the children 
could sleep on the parlour lounge. She was hideous 
and dirty. Her loose lips and half -toothless mouth 
were the slipshod note of an entire existence. There 
was a very dressy bonnet with feathers hanging on a 
peg in the bedroom, and two gala costumes belonging 
to the tearful twins. 

"I'll come back in an hour, thank you," I said. 
"Don't expect me if I am not here in an hour," and 
I fled down the stairs. Before the hour was up 
I had found, through the guidance of the Irish lady 
with rheumatism, a clean room in one street and 
board in another. This was inconvenient, but safe 
and comparatively healthy. 

My meals were thirty-five cents a day, payable at 
the end of the week; my room was $1.25 a week, 
total $3.70 a week. 

My first introduction to Chicago tenement life 
was supper at Mrs. Wood's. 

I could hear the meal sputtering on the kitchen 
stove as I opened the Wood front door. 

Mrs. Wood, combining duties as cook and hostess, 
called to me to make myself at home in the front 



MAKING CLOTHING IN CHICAGO 105 

parlour. I seated myself on the sofa, which exuded 
the familiar acrid odour of the poor. Opposite me 
there was a door half open leading into a room 
where a lamp was lighted. I could see a young 
girl and a man talking together. He was sitting 
and had his hat on. She had a halo of blond hair, 
through which the lamplight was shining, and she 
stood near the man, who seemed to be teasing her. 
Their conversation was low, but there was a familiar 
cry now and then, half vulgar, half affectionate. 

When we had taken our places at the table, Mrs. 
Wood presented us. 

"This is Miss Ida," she said, pointing to the blonde 
girl; "she's been boarding over a year with me, and 
this," turning to the young man who sat near by 
with one arm hanging listlessly over the back of a 
chair, "this is Miss Ida's intended." 

The other members of the household were a fox 
terrier, a canary and "Wood" Wood was a man 
over sixty. He and Mrs. Wood had the same 
devoted understanding that I have observed so often 
among the poor couples of the older generation. 
This good little woman occupied herself with the 
things that no longer satisfy. She took tender care 
of her husband, following him to the door with 
one hand on his shoulder and calling after him as 
he went on his way: " Good-by; take care of your- 
self." She had a few pets, her children were mar- 
ried and gone, she had a miniature patch of garden, 



io6 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

a trust in the church guild which took some time 
and attention for charitable works, and she did her 
own cooking and housework. "And," she explained 
to me in the course of our conversation at supper, 
"I never felt the need of joining these University 
Settlement Clubs to get into society." Wood and 
his wife were a good sort. Miss Ida was kind in 
her inquiries about my plans. 

"Have you ever operated a power machine?" 
she asked. 

"Yes," I responded with what pride she little 
dreamed. "I've run an electric Singer." 

"I guess I can get you a job, then, all right, at 
my place. It's piece-work ; you get off at five, but 
you can make good money." 

I thanked her, not adding that my Chicago career 
was to be a checkered one, and that I was determined 
to see how many things I could do that I had never 
done before. 

But social life was beginning to wear on Miss Ida's 
intended. He took up his hat and swung along 
toward the door. I was struggling to extract with 
my fork the bones of a hard, fried fish. Mrs. Wood 
encouraged me in a motherly tone : 

"Oh, my, don't be so formal; take your knife." 

"Say," called a voice from the door, "say, come on, 
Ida, I'm waiting for you." And the blonde fiancee 
hurried away with an embarrassed laugh to join her 
lover. She was refined and delicate, her ears were 



MAKING CLOTHING IN CHICAGO 107 

small, her hands white and slender, she spoke 
correctly with a nasal voice, and her teeth (as is not 
often the case among this class, whose lownesses seem 
suddenly revealed when they open their mouths) 
were sound and clean. 

The man's smooth face was all commonness and 
vulgarity. 

"He's had appendicitis," Mrs. Wood explained 
when we were alone. "He's been out of work a 
long time. As soon as he goes to his job his side 
bursts out again where they operated on him. He 
ain't a bit strong." 

"When are they going to be married?" I asked. 

"Oh, dear me, they don't think of that yet ; they're 
in no hurry." 

"Will Miss Ida work after she's married ?" 

"No, indeed." 

Did they not have their share of ideal then, these 
two young labourers who could wait indefinitely, 
fed by hope, in their sordid, miserable surroundings ? 

I returned to my tenement room ; its one window 
opened over a narrow alley flanked on its opposite 
side by a second tenement, through whose shutters 
I could look and see repeated layers of squalid 
lodgings. The thermometer had climbed up into 
the eighties. The wail of a newly born baby came 
from the room under mine. The heat was stifling. 
Outdoors in the false, flickering day of the arc lights 
the crowd swarmed, on the curb, on the sidewalk, on 



io8 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

the house steps. The breath of the black, sweet 
night reached them, fetid, heavy with the odour of 
death as it blew across the stockyards. Shouts, 
calls, cries, moans, the sounds of old age and of 
infancv, of despair and of joy, mingled and became 
the anonymous murmur of a hot, human multitude. 
The following morning I put ten cents in my pocket 
and started out to get a job before this sum should 
be used up. How huge the city seemed when I 
thought of the small space I could cover on foot, 
looking for work ! I walked toward the river, as the 
commercial activity expressed itself in that direction 
by fifteen- and twenty-story buildings and streams 
of velvet smoke. Blocks and blocks of tenements, 
with the same dirty people wallowing around them, 
answered my searching eyes in blank response. 
There was an occasional dingy sign offering board 
and lodging. After I had made several futile 
inquiries at imposing offices on the river front I felt 
that it was a hopeless quest. I should never get 
work unknown, unskilled, already tired and dis- 
couraged. My collar was wilted in the fierce heat ; 
my shabby felt sailor hat was no protection against 
the sun's rays; my hands were gloveless; and as I 
passed the plate glass windows I could see the 
despondent droop of my skirt, the stray locks of 
hair that blew about free of comb or veil. A sign 
out: "Manglers wanted ! " attracted my attention in 
the window of a large steam laundry. I was not a 






MAKING CLOTHING IN CHICAGO 109 

"mangier," but I went in and asked to see the boss. 
"Ever done any mangling?" was his first question. 

"No," I answered, "but I am sure I could learn." 
I put so much ardour into my response that the 
boss at once took an interest. 

"We might give you a place as shaker; you could 
start in and work up." 

"What do you pay?' 

"Four dollars a week until you learn. Then 
you would work up to five, five and a half." 

Better than nothing, was all I could think, but I 
can't live on four a week. 

"How often do you pay ?" 

"Every Tuesday night." 

This meant no money for ten days. 

"If you think you'd like to try shaking come round 
Monday morning at seven o'clock." 

Which I took as my dismissal until Monday. 

At least I had a job, however poor, and strength- 
ened by this thought I determined to find something 
better before Monday. The ten-cent piece lay an 
inviting fortune in my hand. I was to part with 
one-tenth of it in exchange for a morning newspaper. 
This investment seemed a reckless plunge, but 
* 'nothing venture, nothing have," my pioneer spirit 
prompted, and soon deep in the list of Wanted, 
Females, I telt repaid. Even in my destitute 
condition I had a choice in mind. If possible I 
wanted to work without machinery in a shop where 



no THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

the girls used their hands alone as power. Here 
seemed to be my heart's content a short, concise 
advertisement, "Wanted, hand sewers." After a 
consultation with a policeman as to the where- 
abouts of my future employer, it became evident 
that I must part with another of my ten cents, as the 
hand sewers worked on the opposite side of the city 
from the neighbourhood whither I had strayed in 
my morning's wanderings. I took a car and alighted 
at a busy street in the fashionable shopping centre 
of Chicago. The number I looked for was over a 
steep flight of dirty wooden stairs. If there is such 
a thing as luck it was now to dwell a moment with 
one of the poorest. I pushed open a swinging door 
and let myself into the office of a clothing manu- 
facturer. 

The owner, Mr. F., got up from his desk and 
came toward me. 

"I seen your advertisement in the morning paper/' 

"Yes," he answered in a kindly voice. "Are you 
a tailoress?" 

"No, sir; I've never done much sewing except on 
a machine." 

"Well, we have machines here." 

"But," I almost interrupted, beginning to fear 
that my training at Perry was to limit all further 
experience to an electric Singer, "I'd rather work 
with my hands. I like the hand- work." 

He looked at me and gave me an answer which 



MAKING CLOTHING IN CHICAGO in 

exactly coincided with my theories. He said this, 
and it was just what I wanted him to say. 

' ' If you do hand- work you'll have to use your mind. 
Lots of girls come in here with an idea they can let 
their thoughts wander ; but you've got to pay strict 
attention. You can't do hand- work mechanically." 

"All right, sir," I responded. "What do you 
pay?" 

"I'll give you six dollars a week while you're 
learning." I could hardly control a movement of 
delight. Six dollars a week ! A dollar a day for an 
apprentice ! 

"But" my next question I made as dismal as 
possible "when do you pay?" 

"Generally not till the end of the second week," 
the kindly voice said; "but we could arrange to pay 
you at the end of the first if you needed the money." 

"Shall I come in Monday?" 

"Come in this afternoon at 12 130 if you're ready." 

"I'm ready," I said, "but I ain't brought no lunch 
with me, and it's too late now to get home and back 
again." 

The man put his hand in his pocket and laid down 
before me a fifty-cent piece, advanced on my pay. 

"Take that," he said, with courtesy; "get your- 
self a lunch in the neighbourhood and come back at 
half -past twelve." 

I went to the nearest restaurant. It was an 
immense bakery patronized by office girls and men, 



ii2 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

hard workers who came for their only free moment 
of the day into this eating-place. Everything that 
could be swallowed quickly was spread out on a 
long counter, behind which there were steaming tanks 
of tea, coffee and chocolate. The men took their 
food downstairs and the ladies climbed to the floor 
above. I watched them. They were self-supporting 
women independent; they could use their money 
as they liked. They came in groups a rustling 
frou-frou announced silk underfittings ; feathers, 
garlands of flowers, masses of trimming weighed 
down their broad-brimmed picture hats, fancy veils, 
kid gloves, silver side-bags, embroidered blouses and 
elaborate belt buckles completed the detail of 
their showy costumes, the whole worn with the air 
of a manikin. What did these busy women order 
for lunch ? Tea and buns, ice-cream and buckwheat 
cakes, apple pie a la mode and chocolate were the 
most serious menus. This nourishing food they ate 
with great nicety and daintiness, talking the while 
about clothes. They were in a hurry, as all of them 
had some shopping to do before returning to work, 
and they each spent a prinking five minutes before 
the mirror, adjusting the trash with which they had 
bedecked themselves exteriorly while their poor 
hard-working systems went ungarnished and 
hungry within. 

This is the wound in American society whereby 
its strength sloughs away. It is in this class that 



MAKING CLOTHING IN CHICAGO 113 

campaigns can be made, directly and indirectly, by 
preaching and by example. What sort of women 
are those who sacrifice all on the altar of luxury? 
It is a prostitution to sell the body's health and 
strength for gewgaws. What harmony can there 
be between the elaborate get-up of these young 
women and the miserable homes where they live? 
The idolizing of material things is a religion nurtured 
by this class of whom I speak. In their humble 
surroundings the love of self, the desire to possess 
things, the cherished need for luxuries, crowd out 
the feelings that make character. They are but one 
manifestation of the egoism of the unmarried 
American woman. 

For what and for whom do they work ? 

Is their fundamental thought to be of benefit 
to a family or to some member of a family? 
Is their indirect object to be strong, thrifty mem- 
bers of society? No. Their parents are secondary, 
their health is secondary to the consuming vanity 
that drives them toward a ruinous goal. They scorn 
the hand- workers ; they feel themselves a noblesse by 
comparison. They are the American snobs whose 
coat of arms marks not a well-remembered family 
but prospective luxuries. . . . Married, they 
bring as a portion thriftless tastes, to satisfy which 
more than one business man has wrecked his career./ 
They work like men; why should they not live as 
men do, with similar responsibilities ? What should 



ii4 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

we think of a class of masculine clerks and employees 
who spent all their money on clothes ? 

The boss was busy when I got back to the clothing 
establishment. From the bench where I waited for 
orders I could take an inventory of the shop's 
productions. Arrayed in rows behind glass cases 
there were all manner of uniforms : serious uniforms 
going to the colonies to be shot to pieces, militia 
uniforms that would hear their loudest heart-beats 
under a fair head; drum-majors' hats that would 
never get farther than the peaceful lawn of a military 
post; fireman's hats; the dark-blue coat of a lonely 
lighthouse guardian ; the undignified short jacket of 
a ''buttons." All that meant parade and glory, the 
uniforms that make men identical by making each 
proud of himself for his brass buttons and gold lace, 
Even in the heavy atmosphere of the shop's rear, 
though they appeared somewhat dingy and tarnished, 
they had their undeniable charm, and I thought 
with pity of the hands that had to sew on plain 
serge suits. 

As soon as the boss saw me, the generous Mr. F. 
who advanced me the fifty cents smiled at the 
skeptical Mr. F. who had never expected to see me 
again. One self said to the other : "I told you so !" 
and all the kindly lines in the man's face showed 
that he had looked for the best even in his inferiors 
and that he had found mankind worth trusting. 
He was the most generous employer I met with 




IN A CHICAGO THEATRICAL COSTUME FACTORY 



MAKING CLOTHING IN CHICAGO 115 

anywhere; I also took him to be the least business- 
like. But, as though quickly to establish the law of. 
averages, his head forewoman counterbalanced all his 
mercies by her ferocious crossness. She terrorized 
everybody, even Mr. F. It was to her, I concluded, 
that we owed our $6 a week. No girl would stay 
for less ; it was an atelier chiefly of foreign employees ; 
the proud American spirit would not stand the lash 
of Frances' tongue. She had been ten years in 
the place whose mad confusion was order to her. 
Mr. F. did not dare to send her away; he 
preferred keeping a perpetual advertisement in the 
papers and changing hands every few days. 

The workroom on our floor was fifty or sixty feet 
long, with windows on the street at one end and 
on a court at the other. The middle of the 
room was lighted by gas. The air was foul and the 
dirt lay in heaps at every corner and was piled up 
under the centre tables. It was less like a workshop 
than an old attic. There was the long-accumulated 
disorder of hasty preparation for the vanities of life. 
It had not at all the aspect of a factory which makes 
a steady provision of practical things. There were 
odds and ends of fancy costumes hanging about 
swords, crowns, belts and badges. Under the sewing 
machines' swift needles flew the scarlet coats of a 
regiment ; gold and silver braid lay unfurled on the 
table; the hand- workers bent over an armful of 
khaki; a row of young girls were fitting military 



n6 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

caps to imaginary soldier's heads; the ensigns of 
glory slipped through the fingers of the humble; 
chevrons and epaulets were caressed never so 
closely by toil-worn hands. In the midst of us sits 
a man on a headless hobby horse, making small 
gray trunks bound in red leather, such boxes as 
might contain jewels for Marguerite, a game of 
lotto, or a collection of jack-straws and mother-of- 
pearl counters brought home from a first trip abroad. 
The trunk maker wears a sombrero and smokes a 
corn-cob pipe. He is very handsome with dark 
eyes and fine features, and he has the "average 
figure," so that he serves as manikin for the atelier; 
and I find him alternately a workman in overalls and 
a Turkish magnate with turban and flowing robes. 
It is into this atmosphere of toil and unreality that 
I am initiated as a hand sewer. Something of the 
dramatic and theatrical possesses the very managers 
themselves. Below, a regiment waits impatient for 
new brass buttons ; we sew against time and break 
all our promises. Messengers arrive every few 
minutes with fresh reports of rising ire on the part 
of disappointed customers. Down the stairs pell- 
mell comes an elderly partner of the firm with a 
gold-and-purple crown on his head and after him 
follows the kindly Mr. F. in an usher's jacket. "If 
you don't start now," he calls, "that order'll be left 
on our hands." 

Amid such confusion the regular rhythm of the 



MAKING CLOTHING IN CHICAGO 117 

needle as it carries its train of thread across the yards 
of coloured cloth is peaceful, consoling. I have on 
one side of me a tailor who speaks only Polish, on 
the other side a seamstress who speaks only German. 
Across the frontier I thus become they communicate 
with signs, and I get my share of work planned out 
by each. Every woman in the place is cross except 
the girl next to me. She has only just come in and 
the poison of the forewoman has not yet stung her 
into ill nature. She is, like all the foreigners,"! 
neatly, soberly dressed in a sensible frock of good 
durable material. The few Americans in the shop 
have on elaborate shirt-waists in light-coloured silks 
with fancy ribbon collars. We are well paid, there_j 
is no doubt of it. We begin work at 8 A. M. and have 
a generous half -hour at noon. Most of the girls are 
Germans and Poles, and they have all received* 
training as tailoresses in their native countries. To 
the sharp onslaught of Frances' tongue they make no 
response except in dogged silent obedience, whereas 
the dressy Americans with their proper spirit of 
independence touch the limit of insubordination at 
every new command. Insults are freely exchanged^ 
threats ring out on the tired ears. Frances is 
ubiquitous. She scolds the tailors with a torrent of 
abuse, she terrorizes the handsome manikin, she 
bewilders the kindly Mr. F., and before three days 
have passed she has dismissed the neat little Polish 
girl, in tears. This latter comes to me, her face 



n8 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

wrought with emotion. She was receiving n ne 
dollars a week ; it is her first place in America. This 
sudden dismissal, its injustice, requires an explana- 
tion. She cannot speak a word of English and 
asks me to put my poor German at her service as 
interpreter. 

Mr. F. is clearly a man who advocates everything 
for peace, and as there is for him no peace when 
Frances is not satisfied, we gain little by our appeal 
to him except a promise that he will attend later to 
the troubles of the Polish girl. But later, as earlier, 
Frances triumphs, and I soon bid good-by to my 
seatmate and watch her tear-stained face disappear 
down the dingy hallway. She was a skilled tailoress, 
but she could not cut out men's garments, so Frances 
dismissed her. I wonder when my turn will come, 
for I am a green hand and yet determined to keep 
the American spirit. For the sake of justice I will 
not be downed by Frances. 

It is hard to make friends with the girls; we dare 
not converse lest a fresh insult be hurled at us. For 
every mistake I receive a loud, severe correction. 
When night comes I am exhausted. The work is 
easy, yet the moral atmosphere is more wearing than 
the noise of many machines. My job is often 
changed during the week. I do everything as a 
greenhorn, but I work hard and pay attention, so 
that there is no excuse to dismiss me. 

"I am only staying here between jobs," the girl 



MAKING CLOTHING IN CHICAGO 119 

next me volunteers at lunch. "My regular place 
burnt out. You couldn't get me to work under her. 
I wouldn't stand it even if they do pay well." She 
is an American. 

"You're lucky to be so independent," says a 
German woman whose dull silence I had hitherto 
taken for ill nature. "I'm glad enough to get the 
money. I was up this morning at five, working. 
There's myself and my mother and my little girl, 
and not a cent but what I make. My husband is 
sick. He's in Arizona." 

" What were you doing at five?" I asked. 

11 1 have a trade," she answers. "I work on hair 
goods. It don't bring me much, but I get in a few 
hours night and morning and it helps some. There's 
so much to pay." 

She was young, but youth is no lover of dis- 
comfort. Hardships had chased every vestige of 
jeunesse from her high, wrinkled brow and tired 
brown eyes. Like a mirror held against despair her 
face reflected no ray of hope. She was not rebellious, 
but all she knew of life was written there in lines 
whose sadness a smile now and again intensified. 

Added to the stale, heavy atmosphere there is now 
a smell of coffee and tobacco smoke. The old hands 
have boiled a noon beverage on the gas; the tailors 
smoke r.n after-dinner pipe. Put up in newspaper 
by Mrs. Wood, at my matinal departure, my lunches, 
after a ourney across the city, held tightly under my 



120 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

arm, become, before eating, a block of food, a com- 
posite meal in which I can distinguish original bits 
of ham sandwich and apple pie. The work, however, 
does not seem hard to me. I sew on buttons, rip 
trousers, baste coat sleeves I do all sorts of odd 
jobs from eight until six, without feeling, in spite of 
the bad air, any great physical fatigue which ten 
minutes' brisk walk does not shake off. But never 
have the hours dragged so; the moral weariness in 
the midst of continual scolding and abuse are 
unbearable. Each night I come to a firm decision 
to leave the following day, but weakly I return, sure 
of my dollar and dreading to face again the giant 
city in search of work. About four one afternoon, 
well on in the week, Frances brings me a pair of 
military trousers; the stripes of cloth at the side 
seam are to be ripped off. I go to work cheerfully 
cutting the threads and slipping one piece of cloth 
from the other. 

Apparently Frances is exasperated that I should 
do the job in an easy way. It is the only way I 
know to rip, but Frances knows another way that 
breaks your back and almost puts your eyes out, 
that makes you tired and behindhand and sure of 
a scolding. She shows me how to rip her way. The 
two threads of the machine, one from above and 
one from below, which make the stitch, must be 
separated. The work must be turned first on the 
wrong, then on the right side, the scissors must lift 



MAKING CLOTHING IN CHICAGO 121 

first the upper, then the under thread. I begin by 
cutting a long hole in the trousers, which I hide so 
Frances will not see it. She has frightened me into 
dishonesty. Arrived at the middle of the stripe I 
am obliged to turn the trousers wrong side out and 
right side out again every other stitch. While I 
was working in this way, getting more enraged 
every moment, a bedbug ran out of the seam 
between my fingers. I killed it. It was full of blood 
and made a wet red spot on the table. Then I put 
down the trousers and drew away my chair. It was 
useless saying anything to the girl next me. She 
was a Pole, dull, sullen, without a friendly word; 
but the two women beyond had told me once that 
they pitied Frances' husband, so I looked to them 
for support in what I was about to do. 

" There's bedbugs in them clothes," I said. "I 
won't work on 'em. No, sir, not if she sends me 
away this very minute." 

In a great hurry Frances passed me twice. She 
called out angrily both times without waiting for an 
answer : 

"Why don't you finish them pants?" 

Frances was a German. She wore two rhinestone 
combs in her frizzes, which held also dust and burnt 
odds and ends of hair. She had no lips whatever. 
Her mouth shut completely over them after each 
tirade. Her eyes were separated by two deep scowls 
and her voice was shrill and nasal. 



122 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

On her third round she faced me with the same 
question : 

4 'Why don't you finish them pants?" 

" Because, " I answered this time, "there's bed- 
bugs in 'em and I ain't goin' to touch 'em !" 

"Oh ! my !" she taunted me, in a sneering voice, 
"that's dreadful, ain't it? Bedbugs! Why, you 
need only just look on the floor to see 'em running 
around anywhere !" 

I said nothing more, and this remark was the 
last Frances ever addressed to me. 

"Mike!" she called to the presser in the 
corner, "will you have this young lady's card made 
out." 

She gave me no further work to do, but, too 
humiliated to sit idle, I joined a group of girls who 
were sewing badges. 

We had made up all description of political 
badges badges for the court, for processions, school 
badges, military badges, flimsy bits of coloured rib- 
bon and gold fringe which go the tour of the 
world, rallying men to glory. In the dismal twi- 
light our fingers were now busied with black-and- 
silver "in memoriam" badges, to be worn as a last 
tribute to some dead member of a coterie who 
would follow him to the grave under the emblem 
that had united them. 

We were behindhand for the dead as well as for 
the living. At six the power was turned off, the 



MAKING CLOTHING IN CHICAGO 123 

machine hands went home, there was still an 
unfinished heap of black badges. 

I got up and put on my things in the dark closet 
that served for dressing-room. Frances called to 
the hand sewers in her rasping voice : 

"You darsn't leave till you've finished them 
badges." 

How could I feel the slavery they felt ? My nerves 
were sensitive ; I was unaccustomed to their familiar 
hardships. But on the other hand, my prison had an 
escape ; they were bound within four walls ; I dared 
to rebel knowing the resources of the black silk 
emergency bag, money lined. They for their living 
must pay with moral submission as well as physical 
fatigue. There was nothing between them and 
starvation except the success of their daily effort. 
What opposition could the German woman place, 
what could she risk, knowing that two hungry 
mouths waited to be fed beside her own ? __, 

With a farewell glance at the rubbish-strewn 
room, the high, grimy windows, the group of 
hand sewers bent over their work in the increas- 
ing darkness, I started down the stairs. A hand 
was laid on my arm, and I looked up and saw 
Mike's broad Irish face and sandy head bending 
toward me. 

"I suppose you understand," he said, "that 
there'll be no more work for you." 

"Yes," I answered, "I understand," and we 



i2 4 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

exchanged a glance that meant we both agreed 
it was Frances' fault. 

In the shop below I found Mr. F. and returned 
the fifty cents he had advanced me. He seemed 
surprised at this. 

" I'm sorry," he said, in his gentle voice, "that we 
couldn't arrange things." 

" I'm sorry, too," I said. But I dared not add a 
word against Frances. She had terrorized me like 
the rest, and though I knew I never would see her 
again, her pale, lifeless mask haunted me. I remem- 
bered a remark the German woman had made when 
Frances dismissed the Polish girl: " People ought 
to make it easy, and not hard, for others to earn 
a living." 

At the end of this somewhat agitating day I 
returned to my tenement lodgings as to a haven of 
rest. There was one other lodger besides myself: 
she was studying music on borrowed money at four 
dollars a lesson. Obviously she was a victim to 
luxury in the same degree as the young women with 
whom I had lunched at the bakery. Nothing that 
a rich society girl might have had been left out of her 
wardrobe, and borrowed money seemed as good as 
any for making a splurge. 

Miss Arnold was something of a snob, intellectual 
and otherwise. It was evident from my wretched 
clothes and poor grammar that I was not 
accustomed to ladies of her type, but, far from 



MAKING CLOTHING IN CHICAGO 125 

sparing me, she humiliated me with all sorts of 
questions. 

"I'm tired of taffeta jackets, aren't you?" she 
would ask, apropos of my flimsy ulster. "I had 
taffeta last year, with velvet and satin this winter; 
but I don't know what I'll get yet this summer." 

After supper, on my return, I found her sitting in 
the parlour with Mrs. Brown. They never lighted 
the gas, as there was an electric lamp which sent its 
rays aslant the street and repeated the pattern of 
the window curtains all over Mrs. Brown's face and 
hands. 

Drawn up on one end of the horsehair sofa, 
Miss Arnold, in a purple velvet blouse, chatted to 
Mrs. Brown and me. 

"I'm from Jacksonville," she volunteered, patting 
her masses of curly hair. " Do you know anybody 
from Jacksonville? It's an elegant town, so much 
wealth, so many retired farmers, and it's such an 
educational centre. Do you like reading?" she 
asked me. 

" I don't get time," is my response. 

"Oh, my!" she rattles on. ''I'm crazy about 
reading. I do love blank verse it makes the 
language so choice, like in Shakespeare." 

Mrs. Brown and I, being in the majority as opposed 
to this autocrat, remain placid. A current of under- 
standing exists between us. Miss Arnold, on the 
other hand, finds our ignorance a flattering back- 



i26 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

ground for her learning and adventures. She is so 
obviously a woman of the world on the tenement 
horsehair sofa. 

"In case you don't like your work," she Lady 
Bountifuls me, "I can get you a stylish place as 
maid with some society people just out of Chicago 
friends of mine, an elegant family." 

" I don't care to live out," I respond, thanking her. 
" I like my Sundays and my evenings off." 

Mrs. Brown pricks up her ears at this, and I notice 
that thereafter she keeps close inquiry as to how my 
Sundays and evenings are spent. 

But the bell rings. Miss Arnold is called for by 
friends to play on the piano at an evening entertain- 
ment. Mrs. Brown and I, being left alone, begin a 
conversation of the personal kind, which is the only 
resource among the poor. If she had had any 
infirmity a wooden leg or a glass eye she would 
naturally have begun by showing it to me, but as 
she had been spared intact she chose second best. 

"I've had lots of shocks," she said, rocking back 
and forth in a squeaky rocking-chair. The light 
from over the way flickered and gleamed. Mrs. 
Brown's broad, yellow face and gray hair were now 
brilliant, now somber, as she rocked in and out of 
the silver rays. Her voice was a metallic whine, 
and when she laughed against her regular, even, false 
teeth there was a sound like the mechanical yelp of a 
toy cat. Married at sixteen, her whole life had been 



MAKING CLOTHING IN CHICAGO 127 

Brown on earth below and God in His heaven above. 
Childless, she and Brown had spent over fifty years 
together. It was natural in the matter of shocks 
the first she should tell me about was Brown's death. 
The story began with " a breakfast one Sunday morn- 
ing at nine o'clock. . . . Brown always made 
the fire, raked down the ashes, set the coffee to boil, 
and when the toast and eggs were ready he called me. 
And that wasn't one morning, mind you it was 
every morning for fifty years. But this particular 
morning I noticed him speaking strange ; his tongue 
was kind o' thick. He didn't hardly eat nothing, 
and as soon as I'd done he got up and carried the 
ashes downstairs to dump 'em. When he come up 
he seemed dizzy. I says to him, 'Don't you feel 
good ? ' but he didn't seem able to answer. He made 
like he was going to undress. He put his hand in his 
pocket for his watch, and he put it in again for his 
pocketbook; but the second time it stayed in he 
couldn't move it no more ; it was dead and cold when 
I touched it. He leaned up against the wall, and I 
tried to get him over on to the sofa. When I looked 
into his eyes I see that he was gone. He couldn't 
stand, but I held on to him with all my force; I 
didn't let his head strike as he went down. When 
he fell we fell together. 11 Her voice was choked ; even 
now after three years as she told the story she could 
not believe it herself. 

Presently when she is calm again she continues 



128 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

the recital of her shocks three times struck by 
lightning and once run over. Her simple descriptions 
are straightforward and dramatic. As she talks 
the wind blows against the windows, the shutters 
rattle and an ugly white china knob, against which 
the curtains are draped, falls to the floor. Tenderly, 
amazed, she picks it up and looks at it. 

"Brown put that up," she says; " there hasn't no 
hand touched it since his'n." 

Proprietor of this house in which she lives, 
Mrs. Brown is fairly well off. She rents one floor to 
an Italian family, one to some labourers, and one 
to an Irishman and his wife who get drunk from 
time to time and rouse us in the night with tumult 
and scuffling. She has a way of disappearing for a 
week or more and returning without giving any 
account of herself. Relations are strained, and 
Mrs. Brown in speaking of her says : 

"I don't care what trouble I was in, I wouldn't 
call in that Irish woman. I don't have anything to 
do with her. I'd rather get the Dago next door." 
And hereafter follows a mild tirade against the 
Italians the same sentiments I have heard 
expressed before in the labouring centres. 

"They're kind folks and good neighbours," Mrs. 
Brown explains, "but they're different from us. 
They eat what the rest of us throw away, and there's 
no work they won't do. They're putting money 
aside fast; most of 'em owns their own houses; but 




CHICAGO TYPES 



MAKING CLOTHING IN CHICAGO 129 

since they've moved into this neighbourhood the 
price of property's gone down. I don't have nothing 
to do with 'em. We don't any of us. They're not 
like us ; they're different." 

Without letting a day elapse I started early the 
following morning in search of a new job. The 
paper was full of advertisements, but there was 
some stipulation in each which narrowed my possi- 
bilities of getting a place, as I was an unskilled hand. 
There was, however, one simple "Girls wanted!" 
which I answered, prepared for anything but an 
electric sewing machine. 

The address took me to a more fashionable side of 
the city, near the lake; a wide expanse of pale, 
shimmering water, it lay a refreshing horizon for 
eyes long used to poverty's quarters. Like a sea, 
it rolled white-capped waves toward the shore from 
its far-away emerald surface where sail-freighted 
barks traveled at the wind's will. Free from man's 
disfiguring touch, pure, immaculate, it appeared 
bridelike through a veil of morning mist. And at 
its very brink are the turmoil and confusion of 
America's giant industries. In less than an hour I 
am receiving wages from a large picture frame 
company in East Lake Street. Once more I have 
made the observation that men are more agreeable 
bosses than women. The woman, when she is not 
exceptionally disagreeable, like Frances, is always 
annoying. She bothers and nags; things must be 



1 30 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

done her way; she enjoys the legitimate minding of 
other people's business. Aiming at results only, 
the masculine mind is more tranquil. Provided you 
get your work done, the man boss doesn't care what 
methods you take in doing it. For the woman 
boss, whether you get your work done or not, you 
must do it her way The overseer at J.'s picture 
frame manufactory is courteous, friendly, consid- 
erate. I have a feeling that he wishes me to 
cooperate with him, not to be terrorized and driven 
to death by him. My spirits rise at once, my ambi- 
tion is stimulated, and I desire his approval. The 
work is all done by the piece, he explains to me, 
telling me the different prices. The girls work 
generally in teams of three, dividing profits. Nothing 
could be more modern, more middle-class, more 
popular, more philistine than the production of J.'s 
workrooms. They are the cheap imitations fed to a 
public hungry for luxury or the semblance of it. 
Nothing is genuine in the entire shop. Water 
colours are imitated in chromo, oils are imitated in 
lithograph, white carved wood frames are imitated 
in applications of pressed brass. Great works of art 
are belittled by processes cheap enough to be within 
reach of the poorest pocket. Framed pictures are 
turned out by the thousand dozens, every size, from 
the smallest domestic scene, which hangs over the 
baby's crib in a Harlem flat, to the large wedding- 
present size placed over the piano in the front parlour. 



MAKING CLOTHING IN CHICAGO 131 

The range of subjects covers a familiar list of com- 
edies or tragedies the partings before war, the 
interior behind prison bars, the game of marbles, 
the friendly cat and dog, the chocolate girl, the 
skipper and his daughter, etc., etc. 

My job is easy, but slow. With a hammer and 
tacks I fasten four tin mouldings to the four corners 
of a gilt picture frame. Twenty-five cents 'for a 
hundred is the pay given me, and it takes me half a 
day to do this many; but my comrades don't allow 
me to get discouraged. 

"You're doing well," a red-haired vis-a-vis calls 
to me across the table. And the foreman, who comes 
often to see how I am getting along, tells me that the 
next day we are to begin team-work, which pays 
much better. 

The hours are ten a day: from seven until five 
thirty, with twenty-five minutes at noon instead 
of half an hour. The extra five minutes a day 
mount up to thirty minutes a week and let us off 
at five on Saturdays. 

The conversation around me leads me to suppose 
that my companions are not downtrodden in any 
way, nor that they intend letting work interfere 
with happiness. They have in their favour the 
most blessed of all gifts youth. The tragic faces 
one meets with are of the women breadwinners 
whose burdens are overwhelming and of the children 
in whom physical fatigue arrests development and 



132 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

all possibility of pleasure. My present team-mates 
and those along the rest of the room are Americans 
between fourteen and twenty-four years of age, full 
of unconscious hope for the future, which is natural 
in healthy, well-fed youth, taking their work cheerily 
as a self-imposed task in exchange for which they can 
have more clothes and more diversions during their 
leisure hours. 

The profitable job given us on the following day 
is monotonous and dirty, but we net $1.05 each. 
There is a mechanical roller which passes before us, 
carrying at irregular intervals a large sheet of 
coloured paper covered with glue. My vis-a-vis and 
I lay the palms of our right hands on to the glue 
surface and lift the sheet of paper to its place on the 
table before us, over a stiff square of bristol board. 
The boss of the team fixes the two sheets together 
with a brush which she manipulates skilfully. We 
are making in this way the stiff backs which hold 
the pictures into their frames. When we have 
fallen into the proper swing we finish one hundred 
sheets every forty-five minutes. We could work 
more rapidly, but the sheets are furnished to us at 
this rate, and it is so comfortable that conversation 
is not interrupted. The subjects are the same as 
elsewhere dress, young men, entertainments. The 
girls have * 'beaux' ' and "steady beaux." The expres- 
sion, "Who is she going with?" means who is her 
steady beau. "I've got Jim Smith now, but I don't 



MAKING CLOTHING IN CHICAGO 133 

know whether I'll keep him," means that Jim Smith 
is on trial as a beau and may become a "steady." 
They go to Sunday night subscription dances and 
arrive Monday morning looking years older than on 
Saturday, after having danced until early morning. 
"There's nothing so smart for a ball," the mundane 
of my team tells us, "as a black skirt and white 
silk waist." 

About ten in the morning most of us eat a pickle 
or a bit of cocoanut cake or some titbit from the 
lunch parcel which is opened seriously at twelve. 

The light is good, the air is good, the room where 
we work is large and not crowded, the foreman is 
kind and friendly, the girls are young and cheerful ; 
one can make $7 to $8 a week. 

The conditions at J. 's are too favourable to be 
interesting, and, having no excuse to leave, I disap- 
pear one day at lunch time and never return to get 
my apron or my wages. I shall be obliged to draw 
upon the resources of the black silk bag, but before 
returning to my natural condition of life I wish to 
try one more place: a printing job. There are 
quantities of advertisements in the papers for girls 
needed to run presses of different sorts, so on the 
very afternoon of my self-dismissal I start through 
the hot summer streets in search of a situation. On 
the day when my appearance is most forlorn I find 
policemen always as officially polite as when I am 
dressed in my best. Other people of whom I inquire 



i 3 4 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

my way are sometimes curt, sometimes compas- 
sionate, seldom indifferent, and generally much 
nicer or not nearly as nice as they would be to a 
rich person. Poor old women to whom I speak 
often call me "dear" in answering. 

Under the trellis of the elevated road the "cables" 
clang their way. Trucks and automobiles, delivery 
wagons and private carriages plunge over the rough 
pavements. The sidewalks are crowded with people 
who are dressed for business, and who, whether men 
or women, are a business type ; the drones who taste 
not of the honey stored in the hives which line the 
streets and tower against the blue sky, veiling it with 
smoke. The orderly rush of busy people, among 
whom I move toward an address given in the paper, 
is suddenly changed into confusion and excitement 
by the bell of a fire-engine which is dragged clattering 
over the cobbles, followed closely by another and 
another before the sound of the horses' hoofs have 
died away. Excitement for a moment supersedes 
business. The fire takes precedence before the office, 
and a crowd stands packed against policemen's 
arms, gazing upward at a low brick building which 
sends forth flames hotter than the brazen sun, 
smoke blacker than the perpetual veil of soot. 

I compare the dingy gold number over the burning 
door with the number in print on the newspaper slip 
held between my thumb and forefinger. Decidedly 
this is not one of my lucky days. The numbers 



MAKING CLOTHING IN CHICAGO 135 

correspond. But there are other addresses and I 
collect a series of replies. The employer in a box 
factory on the West Side takes my address and 
promises to let me know if he has a vacancy for an 
unskilled hand. Another boss printer, after much 
urging on my part, consents to give me a trial the 
following Monday at three dollars a week. A 
kindly forelady in a large printing establishment on 
Wabash Avenue sends me away because she wants 
only trained workers. "I'm real sorry," she says. 
"You're from the East, aren't you? I notice you 
speak with an accent." 

By this time it is after three in the afternoon ; my 
chances are diminishing as the day goes on and 
others apply before me. There is one more possi- 
bility at a box and label company which has adver- 
tised for a girl to feed a Gordon press. I have never 
heard of a Gordon press, but I make up my 
mind not to leave the label company without the 
promise of a job for the very next day. The stair- 
way is dingy and irregular. My spirits are not 
buoyant as I open a swinging door and enter a room 
with a cage in the middle, where a lady cashier, 
dressed in a red silk waist, sits on a high stool over- 
looking the office. Three portly men, fat, well 
nourished, evidently of one family, are installed 
behind yellow ash desks, each with a lady typewriter 
at his right hand. I go timidly up to the fattest of 
the three. He is in shirt sleeves, evidently feeling 



136 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

the heat painfully He pretends to be very busy 
and hardly looks up when I say : 

"I seen your ad. in the paper this morning." 

"You're rather late," is his answer. "I've got two 
girls engaged already." 

"Too late !" I say with an intonation which inter- 
rupts his work for a minute while he looks at me. 
I profit by this moment, and, changing from tragedy 
to a good-humoured smile, I ask : 

"Say, are you sure those girls '11 come? You 
can't always count on us, you know." 

He laughs at this. "Have you ever run a Gordon 
press?" 

"No, sir; but I'm awful handy." 

"Where have you been working?" 

"At J.'s in Lake Street." 

"What did you make ?" 

"A dollar a day." 

"Well, you come in to-morrow about eleven and 
I'll tell you then whether I can give you anything to 
do." 

"Can't you be sure now?" 

Truly disappointed, my voice expresses the eager- 
ness I feel. 

"Well," the fat man says indulgently, "you come 
in to-morrow morning at eight and I'll give you a 
job." 

The following day I begin my last and by far my 
most trying apprenticeship. 



MAKING CLOTHING IN CHICAGO 137 

The noise of a single press is deafening. In the 
room where I work there are ten presses on my row, 
eight back of us and four printing machines back of 
them. On one side of the room only are there 
windows. The air is heavy with the sweet, stifling 
smell of printer's ink and cheap paper. A fine rain 
of bronze dust sifts itself into the hair and clothes of 
the girls at our end of the room, where they are 
bronzing coloured advertisements. The work is all 
done standing; the hours are from seven until six, 
with half an hour at noon, and holiday at one thirty 
on Saturdays. It is to feed a machine that I am paid 
three dollars a week. The expression is admirably 
chosen. The machine's iron jaws yawn for food; 
they devour all I give, and when by chance I am 
slow they snap hungrily at my hand and would 
crush my fingers did I not snatch them away, 
feeling the first cold clutch. It is nervous work. 
Each leaf to be printed must be handled twice; 
5,000 circulars or bill-heads mean 10,000 gestures 
for the printer, and this is an afternoon's work. 

Into the square marked out for it by steel guards 
the paper must be slipped with the right hand, while 
the machine is open ; with the left hand the printed 
paper must be pulled out and a second fitted in its 
place before the machine closes again. What a 
master to serve is this noisy iron mechanism ani- 
mated by steam ! It gives not a moment's respite 
to the worker, whose thoughts must never wander 



138 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

from her task. The girls are pale. Their complexions 
without exception are bad. 

We are bossed by men. My boss is kind, and, 
seeing that I am ambitious, he comes now and then 
and prints a few hundred bill-heads for me. There 
is some complaining sotto voce of the other boss, who, 
it appears, is a hard taskmaster. Both are very 
young, both chew tobacco and expectorate long, 
brown, wet lines of tobacco juice on to the floor. 
While waiting for new type I get into conversation 
with the boss of ill-repute. He has an honest, 
serious face ; his eyes are evidently more accustomed 
to judging than to trusting his fellow beings. He is 
communicative. 

" Do you like your job ? " he asks. 

" Yes, first rate." 

" They don't pay enough. I give notice last week 
and got a raise. I guess I'll stay on here until about 
August." 

"Then where are you going?" 

"Going home," he answers. "I've been away 
from home for seven years. I run away when I was 
thirteen and I've been knocking around ever since, 
takin' care of myself, makin' a livin' one way or 
another. My folks lives in California. I've been 
from coast to coast and I tell you I'll be mighty 
glad to get back." 

"Ever been sick?" 

"Yes, twice. It's no fun. No matter how much 



MAKING CLOTHING IN CHICAGO 139 

licking a boy gets he ought never to leave home. 
The first year or so you don't mind it so much, but 
when you've been among strangers two years, three 
years, all alone, sick or well, you begin to feel you 
must get back to your own folks." 

"Are you saving up-? " I ask. 

He nods his head, not free to speak for tobacco 
juice. 

" I'll be able to leave here in August," he explains, 
when he has finished spitting, ' ' for Omaha. In three 
months I can save up enough to get on as far as 
Salt Lake, and in another three months I can move 
on to San Francisco. I tell you," he adds, returning 
to his work, "a person ought never to leave home." 
He had nine months of work and privation before 
reaching the goal toward which he had been yearning 
for years. With what patience he appears possessed 
compared to our fretfulness at the fast express trains, 
which seem to crawl when they carry us full speed 
homeward toward those we love ! Nine months, 
two hundred and seventy days, ten-hour working 
days, to wait. He was manly. He had the spirit of 
adventure ; his experience was wide and his knowl- 
edge of men extended ; he had managed to take care 
of himself in one way or another for seven years, the 
most trying and decisive in a boy's life. He had not 
gone to the bad, evidently, and to his credit he was 
homeward bound. His history was something out 
of the ordinary; yet beyond the circle where he 



i 4 o THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

worked and was considered a hard taskmaster he 
was a nonentity a star in the milky way, a star 
whose faint rays, without individual brilliancy, 
added to the general luster. 

The first day I had a touch of pride in getting 
easily ahead of the new girl who started in when I 
did. From my machine I could see only the back of 
her head ; it was shaking disapproval at every stroke 
she made and had to make over again. She had a 
mass of untidy hair and a slouchy skirt that slipped 
out from her belt in the back. If not actually 
stupid, she was slow, and the foreman and the girl 
who took turns teaching her exchanged glances, 
meaning that they were exhausting their patience 
and would readily give up the job. I was pleased at 
being included in these glances, and had a miserable 
moment of vanity at lunch time when the old girls, 
the habitues, came after me to eat with them. The 
girl with the untidy hair and the long skirt sat quite 
by her self. Without unfolding her newspaper 
bundle, she took bites of things from it, as though 
she were a little ashamed of her lunch. My moment 
of vanity had passed. I went over to her, not 
knowing whether her appearance meant a slipshod 
nature or extreme poverty. As we were both new 
girls, there was no indiscretion in my direct question : 

" Like your job?" 

I could not understand what she answered, so I 
continued : ' ' Ever worked before ?' ' 



MAKING CLOTHING IN CHICAGO 141 

She opened her hands and held them out to me. 
In the palm of one there was a long scar that ran 
from wrist to forefinger. Two nails had been worn 
off below the quick and were cracked through the 
middle. The whole was gloved in an iron callous, 
streaked with black. 

"Does that look like work?" was her response. 
It was almost impossible to hear what she said. 
Without a palate, she forced the words from her 
mouth in a strange monotone. She was one of 
nature's monstrous failures. Her coarse, opaque 
skin covered a low forehead and broad, boneless nose ; 
her teeth were crumbling with disease, and into her 
full lower lip some sharp tool had driven a double 
scar. She kept her hand over her mouth when she 
talked, and except for this movement of self- 
consciousness her whole attitude was one of resigna- 
tion and humility. Her eyes in their dismal 
surroundings lay like clear pools in a swamp's midst 
reflecting blue sky. 

"What was you doing to get your hands like 
that?" I asked. 

"Tipping shoe-laces. I had to quit, 'cause they 
cut the pay down. I could do twenty-two gross in 
a day, working until eight o'clock, and I didn't care 
how hard I worked so long as I got good pay $9 
a week. But the employ er'd been a workman 
himself, and they're the worst kind. He cut me 
down to $4 a week, so I quit." 



1 42 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

"Do you live home?" 

"Yes. I give all I make to my mother, and she 
gives me my clothes and board. Almost anywhere 
I can make $7 a week, and I feel when I earn that 
much like I was doing right. But it's hard to work 
and make nothing. I'm slow to learn," she smiled 
at me, covering her mouth with her hand, "but I'll 
get on to it by and by and go as fast as any one ; only 
I'm not very strong." 

"What's the matter with you?" 

" Heart disease for one thing, and then I'm so 
nervous. It's kind of hard to have to work when 
you're not able. To-day I can hardly stand, my 
head's aching so. They make the poor work for just 
as little as they can, don't they ? It's not the work 
I mind, but if I can't give in my seven a week at 
home I get to worrying." 

Now and then as she talked in her inarticulate 
pitiful voice the tears added luster to her eyes as 
her emotions welled up within her. 

The machines began to roar and vibrate again. 
The noon recess was over. She went back to her 
job. Her broad, heavy hands began once more to 
serve a company on whose moderate remuneration 
she depended for her daily bread. Her silhouette 
against the window where she stood was no longer 
an object for my vain eyes to look upon with a sense 
of superiority. I could hear the melancholy intona- 
tion of her voice, pronouncing words of courage over 



MAKING CLOTHING IN CHICAGO 143 

her disfigured underlip. She was one of nature's 
failures one of God's triumphs. 

Saturday night my fellow lodger, Miss Arnold, and 
I made an expedition to the spring opening of a large 
dry-goods shop in the neighbourhood of Mrs. 
Brown's. I felt rather humble in my toil-worn 
clothes to accompany the young woman, who had 
an appearance of prosperity which borrowed money 
alone can give. But she encouraged me, and we 
started together for the principal street of the quarter 
whose history was told in its show-case windows. 
Pawnshops and undertakers, bakeries and soda- 
water fountains were ranged side by side on this high- 
way, as the necessity for them is ranged with 
incongruous proximity in the existence of those who 
live pell-mell in moral and material disorder after 
the manner of the poor. There was even a wedding 
coach in the back of the corner undertaker's estab- 
lishment, and in the front window a coffin, small and 
white, as though death itself were more attractive 
in the young, as though the little people of the 
quarter were nearer Heaven and more suggestive of 
angels than their life-worn elders. The spotless tiny 
coffin with its fringe and satin tufting had its share 
of the ideal, mysterious, unused and costly; in the 
same store with the wedding coach, it suggested 
festivity: a reunion to celebrate with tears a small 
pilgrim's right to sleep at last undisturbed. 

The silver rays of the street lamps mingled with 



144 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

the yellow light of the shop windows, and on the 
sidewalk there was a cosmopolitan public. Groups 
of Italian women crooned to each other in their soft 
voices over the bargains for babies displayed at the 
spring opening; factory girls compared notes, 
chattered, calculated, tried to resist, and ended by 
an extravagant choice ; the German women looked 
and priced and bought nothing; the Hungarians had 
evidently spent their money on arriving. From the 
store window wax figures of the ideal woman, clad in 
latest Parisian garb, with golden hair and blue eyes, 
gazed down benignly into the faces uplifted with 
envy and admiration. Did she not plainly say to 
them "For $17 you can look as I do" ? 

The store was apparently flourishing, and except 
for such few useful articles as stockings and shirts 
it was stocked with trash. Patronized entirely by 
labouring men and women, it was an indication to 
their needs. Here, for example, was a stand hung 
with silk dress skirts, trimmed with lace and velvet. 
They were made after models of expensive dress- 
makers and were attempts at the sort of thing a 
Mme. de Rothschild might wear at the Grand Prix 
de Paris. 

Varying from $11 to $20, there was not one of the 
skirts made of material sufficiently solid to wear for 
more than a few Sunday outings. On another 
counter there were hats with extravagant garlands 
of flowers, exaggerated bows and plumes, wraps 




THE REAR OF A CHICAGO TENEMENT 



MAKING CLOTHING IN CHICAGO 145 

with ruffles of lace and long pendant bows; silk 
boleros; a choice of things never meant to be 
imitated in cheap quality. 

I watched the customers trying on. Possessed 
of grace and charm in their native costumes, hat less, 
with gay-coloured shawls on their shoulders, the 
Italian women, as soon as they donned the tawdry 
garb of the luxury-loving labourer, were common 
like the rest. In becoming prosperous Americans, 
animated by the desire for material possession which 
is the strength and the weakness of our countrymen, 
they lost the character that pleases us, the beauty 
we must go abroad to find. __j 

Miss Arnold priced everything, compared quality 
and make with Jacksonville productions, and decided 
to buy nothing, but in refusing to buy she had an air 
of opulence and taste hard to please which surpassed 
the effect any purchase could have made. 

Sunday morning Mrs. Brown asked me to join her 
and Miss Arnold for breakfast They were both in 
slippers and dressing-gowns. We boiled the coffee 
and set the table with doughnuts and sweet cakes, 
which Miss Arnold kept in a paper bag in her room. 

<; I hardly ever eat, except between meals/' she 
explained. "A nibble of cake or candy is as much as I 
can manage, my digestion is so poor." 

"Ever since Brown died," the widow responded, 
" I've had my meals just the same as though he were 
here. All I want," she went on, as we seated our- 



1 4 6 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

selves and exchanged courtesies in passing the bread 
and butter, "all I want is somebody to be kind to 
me. I've got a young niece that I've tried to have 
with me. I wrote to her and says: 'Your auntie's 
heart's just crying out for you !' And I told her I'd 
leave her all I've got. But she said she didn't feel 
like she could come." 

As soon as breakfast is over the mundane 
member of the household starts off on a day's round 
of visits. When the screen door has shut upon 
her slender silhouette, Mrs. Brown settles down 
for a chat. She takes out the brush and comb, 
unbraids her silver locks and arranges them while 
she talks. 

"Miss Arnold's always on the go; she's awful 
nervous. These society people aren't happy. Life's 
not all pleasure for them. You can be sure they 
have their ups and downs like the rest of us." 

"I guess that's likely," is my response. 

" They don't tell the truth always, in the first place. 
They say there's got to be deceit in society, and that 
these stylish people pretend all sorts of things. Well, 
then, all I say is," and she pricks the comb into the 
brush with emphasis, "all I say is, you better keep 
out of society." 

She had twisted her gray braids into a coil at the 
back of her head, and dish-washing is now the order 
of the day. As we splash and wipe, Mrs. Brown 
looks at me rather closely. She is getting ready to 



MAKING CLOTHING IN CHICAGO 147 

speak. I can feel this by a preliminary rattle of her 
teeth. 

" You're a new girl here," she begins; "you ain't 
been long in Chicago. I just thought I'd tell you 
about a girl who was workin' here in the General 
Electric factory. She was sixteen a real nice- 
lookin' girl from the South. She left her mother and 
come up here alone. It wasn't long before she got to 
foolin' round with one of the young men over to the 
factory. They were both young; they didn't mean 
no harm; but one day she come an' told me, cryin' 
like anythin', that she was in trouble, and her young 
man had slipped off up to Michigan." 

Here Mrs. Brown stopped to see if I was interested, 
and as I responded with a heartfelt "Oh, my !" she 
went on : 

" Well, you ought to have seen that girl's sufferin', 
her loneliness for her mother. I'd come in her room 
sometimes at midnight the very room you have 
now and find her on the floor, weepin' her heart 
out. I want to tell you never to get discouraged. 
Just you listen to what happened. The gentleman 
from the factory got a sheriff and they started up 
north after the young man, determined to get him 
by force if they couldn't by kindness. Well, they 
found him and they brought him back ; he was willin' 
to come, and they got every thin' fixed up for the 
weddin' without tellin' her a thing about it, and one 
day she was sittin' right there," she pointed to the 



i 4 8 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

rocking chair in the front parlour window, "when 
he come in. He was carryin' a big bunch of cream 
roses, tied with long white ribbons. He offered 'em 
to her, but she wouldn't look at them nor at him. 
After awhile they went together into her room and 
talked for half an hour, and when they come back 
she had consented to marry him. He was real kind. 
He kept askin' me if she had cried much and thankin* 
me for takin' care of her. They were married, and 
when the weddin' was over she didn't want to stay 
with him. She said she wanted her mother, but we 
talked to her and told her what was right, and things 
was fixed up between them." 

She had taken down from its hook in the corner 
sunlight the canary bird and his cage. She put 
them on the table and prepared to give the bird his 
bath and fresh seed. 

"You see," she said, drawing up a chair, "that's 
what good employers will do for you. If you're 
working in a good place they'll do right by you, 
and it don't pay to get down-hearted." 

I thanked her and showed the interest I truly felt 
in the story. Evidently I must account for my 
Sundays ! It was with the bird now that Mrs. Brown 
continued her conversation. He was a Rip Van 
Winkle in plumage. His claws trailed over the sand 
of the cage. Except when Mrs. Brown had a lodger 
or two with her, the bird was the only living thing 
in her part of the tenement. 



MAKING CLOTHING IN CHICAGO I49 

"I've had him twenty-five years," she said to 
me. "Brown give him to me. I guess I'd miss him 
if he died." And presently she repeated again: 
"I don't believe I even know how much I'd miss 
him." 

On the last evening of my tenement residence I 
was sitting in a restaurant of the quarter, having 
played truant from Mrs. Wood's, whose Friday 
fish dinner had poisoned me. My hands had been 
inflamed and irritated in consequence, and I was 
now intent upon a good clean supper earned by 
ten hours' work. My back was turned to the door, 
which I knew must be open, as I felt a cold wind. 
The lake brought capricious changes of the tempera- 
ture: the thermometer had fallen the night before 
from seventy to thirty. I turned to see who the 
newcomer might be. The sight of him set my 
heart beating faster. The restaurant keeper was 
questioning the man to find out who he was. . . . 
He was evidently nobody a fragment of anony- 
mous humanity lashed into debris upon the edge of a 
city's vortex ; a remnant of flesh and bones for human 
appetites to feed on; a battleground of disease and 
vice; a beggar animated by instinct to get from 
others what he could no longer earn for himself ; the 
type par excellence who has worn out charity organi- 
zations ; the poor wreck of a soul that would create 
pity if there were none of it left in the world. He 
was asking for food. The proprietor gave him the 



i5o THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

address of a free lodging-house and turned him 
away. He pulled his cap over his head; the door 
opened and closed, letting in a fresh gale of icy air. 
The man was gone. I turned back to my supper. 
Scientific philanthropists would have means of 
proving that such men are alone to blame for 
their condition ; that this one was in all probability 
a drunkard, and that it would be useless, worse 
than useless, to help him. But he was cold and 
hungry and penniless, and I knew it. I went 
as swiftly as I could to overtake him. He had 
not traveled far, lurching along at a snail's pace, 
and he was startled when I came up to him. One 
of his legs was longer than the other; it had been 
crushed in an accident. They were not pairs, his 
legs, and neither were his eyes pairs; one was big 
and blind, with a fixed pupil, and the other showed 
all his feelings. Across his nose there was a scar, a 
heavy scar, pale like the rest of his face. He was 
small and had sandy hair. The directors of charity 
bureaus could have detected perhaps a faint resem- 
blance to the odour of liquor as he breathed a halo 
of frosty air over his scraggly red beard. 

Through the weather-beaten coat pinned over it 
his bare chest was visible. 

"It's a cold night !" I began. "Are you out of a 
job?" 

With his wistful eye he gave me a kind glance. 

"I've been sick. There's a sharp pain right in 



MAKING CLOTHING IN CHICAGO 151 

through here." He showed me a spot tinder 
his arm. "They thought at the hospital that I 
'ad consumption. "But," his face brightened, "I 
haven't got it." He showed in his smile the 
life-warrant that kept him from suicide. He wanted 
to live. 

"Where did you sleep last night?" I asked. "It 
was a cold night." 

"To tell you the truth," he responded in his 
strong Scotch accent, "I slept in a wagon." 

I proposed that we do some shopping together; 
he looked at me gratefully and limped along to a 
cheap clothing store, kept by an Italian. The 
warmth within was agreeable; there was a display 
of garments hung across the ceiling under the gas- 
light. My companion waited, leaning against the 
glass counter, while I priced the flannel shirts. To 
be sure, my own costume promised little bounty. 
The price of the shirt was seventy-five cents, and as 
soon as he heard this the poor man said : 

"Oh, you mustn't spend as much as that." 

Looking first at the pauper, then at me, the Italian 
leaned over and whispered to me, "I think I under- 
stand. You can have the shirt for sixty, and I'll 
put in a pair of socks, too." 

Thus we had become a fraternity; all were 
poor, the stronger woe helping the weaker. . . . 
When his toilet was complete the poor man looked 
half a head taller. 



152 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

"Shall I wrap up your old cap for you ?" the sales- 
man asked, and the other laughed a broken, long- 
disused laugh. 

"I guess I won't need it any more," he said, turning 
to me. 

His face had changed like the children's valen- 
tines that grow at a touch from a blank card to a 
glimpse of paradise. 

Once in the street again we shook hands. I was 
going back to my supper. He was going, the charity 
directors would say, to pawn his shirt and coat. 

The man had evidently not more than a few 
months to live ; I was leaving Chicago the following 
day. We would undoubtedly never meet again. 

As his bony hand lay in mine, his eyes looked 
straight at me. 'Thank you," he said, and his last 
words were these: 

"I'll stand by you." 

It was a pledge of fraternity at parting. There 
was no material substance to promise. I took it to 
mean that he would stand by any generous impulses 
I might have; that he would be, as it were, a 
patron of spontaneous as opposed to organized 
charity; a patron of those who are never too 
poor to give to some one poorer ; of those who have 
no scientific reasons for giving, no statistics, only 
compassion and pity ; of those who want to aid not 
only the promising but the hopeless cases; of those 
whose charity is tolerant and maternal, patient with 



MAKING CLOTHING IN CHICAGO 153 

the helpless, prepared for disappointments; not 
looking for results, ever ready to begin again, so 
long as the paradox of suffering and inability are 
linked together in humanity. 



THE MEANING OF IT ALL 



CHAPTER V 
THE MEANING OF IT ALL 

BEFORE concluding the recital of my experiences 
as a working girl, I want to sum up the general 
conclusions at which I arrived and to trace in a few 
words the history of my impressions What, first 
of all, was my purpose in going to live and work 
among the American factory hands? It was not 
to gratify simple curiosity ; it was not to get material 
for a novel; it was not to pave the way for new 
philanthropic associations; it was not to obtain 
crude data, such as fill the reports of labour com- 
missioners. My purpose was to help the working 
girl to help her mentally, morally, physically. I 
considered this purpose visionary and unpractical, 
I considered it pretentious even, and I cannot say 
that I had any hope of accomplishing it. What did 
I mean by help? Did I mean a superficial remedy, 
a palliative? A variety of such remedies occurred 
to me as I worked, and I have offered them gladly 
for the possible aid of charitable people who have 
time and money to carry temporary relief to the 
poor. It was not relief of this kind that I meant by 
help. I meant an amelioration in natural conditions. 

157 



i $8 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

I was not hopeful of discovering any plan to bring 
about this amelioration, because I believed that the 
conditions, deplorable as they appear to us, of the 
working poor, were natural, the outcome of laws 
which it is useless to resist. I adopted the only 
method possible for putting my belief to the test. 
I did what had never been done. I was a skeptic 
and something of a sentimentalist when I started. 
I have become convinced, as I worked, that certain 
of the most unfortunate conditions are not natural, 
and that they can therefore be corrected. It is with 
hope for the material betterment of the bread- 
winning woman, for the moral advancement of the 
semi-breadwinner and the esthetic improvement of 
the country, that I submit what seems a rational 
plan. 

For the first three weeks of my life as a factory 
girl I saw among my companions only one vast class 
of slaves, miserable drudges, doomed to dirt, ugliness 
and overwork from birth until death. My own 
physical sufferings were acute. My heart was torn 
with pity. I revolted against a society whose mate- 
rial demands were satisfied at the cost of minds 
and bodies. Labour appeared in the guise of a 
monster feeding itself on human lives. To every 
new impression I responded with indiscriminate 
compassion. It is impossible for the imagination 
to sustain for more than a moment at a time the 
terrible fatigue which a new hand like myself is 



THE MEANING OF IT ALL 159 

obliged to endure day after day; the disgust at 
foul smells, the revulsion at miserable food soaked 
in grease, the misery of a straw mattress, a sheetless 
bed with blankets whose acrid odour is stifling. 
The mind cannot grasp what it means to be frantic 
with pain in the shoulders and back before nine in 
the morning, and to watch the clock creep around 
to six before one has a right to drop into the chair 
that has stood near one all day long. Yet it is 
not until the system has become at least in a great 
measure used to such physical effort that one can 
judge without bias. When I had grown so accus- 
tomed to the work that I was equal to a long walk 
after ten hours in the factory; when I had become 
so saturated with the tenement smell that I no longer 
noticed it; when any bed seemed good enough for 
the healthy sleep of a working girl, and any food 
good enough to satisfy a hungry stomach, then and 
then only I began to see that in the great unknown 
class there were a multitude of classes which, aside 
from the ugliness of their esthetic surroundings and 
the intellectual inactivity which the nature of 
their occupation imposes, are not all to be pitied: 
they are a collection of human individuals with like 
capacities to our own. The surroundings into which 
they are born furnish little chance for them to develop 
their minds and their tastes, but their souls suffer 
nothing from working in squalour and sordidness. 
Certain acts of impulsive generosity, of disinterested 



160 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

kindness, of tender sacrifice, of loyalty and fortitude 
shone out in the poverty-stricken wretches I met 
on my way, as the sun shines glorious in iri- 
descence on the rubbish heap that goes to fertilize 
some rich man's fields. 

My observations were confined chiefly to the 
women. Two things , however, regarding the men I 
noticed as fixed rules. They were all breadwinners ; 
they worked because they needed the money to live ; 
they supported entirely the woman, wife or mother, 
of the household who did not work. In many cases 
they contributed to the support of even the wage- 
earning females of the family: the woman who 
does not work when she does not need to work is 
provided for. 

The women were divided into two general 
classes: Those who worked because they needed 
to earn their living, and those who came to the 
factories to be more independent than at home, 
to exercise their coquetry and amuse themselves, 
to make pin money for luxuries. The men formed 
a united class. They had a purpose in common. 
The women were in a class with boys and with 
children. They had nothing in common but their 
physical inferiority to man. The children were 
working from necessity, the boys were working 
from necessity; the only industrial unit compli- 
cating the problem were the girls who worked 
without being obliged to the girls who had "all the 



THE MEANING OF IT ALL 161 

money they needed, but not all the money they 
wanted." To them the question of wages was not 
vital. They could afford to accept what the bread- 
winner found insufficient. They were better fed, 
better equipped than the self-supporting hand ; 
they were independent about staying away from 
the factory when they were tired or ill, and they 
alone determined the reputation for irregularity in 
which the breadwinners were included. 

Here, then, it seemed to me, was the first chance 
to offer help. 

The self-supporting woman should be in competi- 
tion only with other self-supporting industrial units. 
The problem for her class will settle itself, according 
to just and natural laws, when the purpose of this 
class is equally vital to all concerned. Relief, it 
seemed to me, could be brought to the breadwinner 
by separating from her the girl who works for 
luxuries. 

How could this be done? 

There is, I believe, a way in which it can be 
accomplished naturally. The non-self-supporting 
girls must be attracted into some field of work which 
requires instruction and an especial training, which 
pays them as well while calling into play higher 
faculties than the brutalizing machine labour. This 
field of work is industrial art: lace-making, hand- 
weaving, the fabrication of tissues and embroideries, 
gold-smithery, bookbinding, rug-weaving, wood- 



1 62 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

carving and inlaying, all the branches of industrial 
art which could be executed by woman in her home, 
all the manual labour which does not require physical 
strength, which would not place the woman, there- 
fore, as an inferior in competition with man, but 
would call forth her taste and skill, her training and 
individuality, at the same time being consistent 
with her destiny as a woman. 

The American factory girl has endless ambition. 
She has a hunger for knowledge, for oppor- 
tunities to better herself, to get on in the world, 
to improve. There is ample material in the 
factories as they exist for forming a new, higher, 
superior class of industrial art labourers. There is a 
great work to be accomplished by those who are 
willing to give their time and their money to lifting 
the non-breadwinners from the slavish, brutalizing 
machines at which they work, ignorant of any- 
thing better, and placing them by education, by 
cultivation, in positions of comparative freedom 
freedom of thought, taste and personality. 

Classes in industrial art already exist at the 
Simmons School in Boston and Columbia University 
in New York. New classes should be formed. 
Individual enterprise should start the ball and keep 
it rolling until it is large enough to be held in 
Governmental hands. It is not sufficient merely 
to form classes. The right sort of pupils should be 
attracted. There is not a factory which would not 



THE MEANING OF IT ALL 163 

furnish some material. The recompense for appren- 
ticeship would be the social and intellectual advance- 
ment dear to every true American's heart. The 
question of wages would be self -regulating. At Hull 
House, Chicago, in the Industrial Art School it has 
been proved that, provided the models be simple in 
proportion to the ability of the artisan, the work 
can be sold as fast as it is turned out. The public 
is ready to buy the produce of hand-workers. The 
girls I speak of are fit for advancement. It is not a 
plan of charity, but one to ameliorate natural 
conditions. 

Who will act as mediator? 

I make an appeal to all those whose interests 
and leisure permit them to help in this double 
emancipation of the woman who toils for bread 
and the girl who works for luxuries. 



MARIE VAN VORST 

INTRODUCTORY 

VII. A MAKER OF SHOES AT LYNN 

VIII. THE SOUTHERN COTTON MILLS 

IX. THE CHILD IN THE SOUTHERN MILLS 



CHAPTER VI 
INTRODUCTORY 

THERE are no words too noble to extol the cour- 
age of mankind in its brave, uncomplaining struggle 
for existence. Idealism and estheticism have 
always had much to say in praise of the "beauty 
of toil." Carlyle has honoured it as a cult; epics 
have been written in its glory. When one has 
turned to and performed, day in and day out, this 
labour from ten to thirteen hours out of the 
twenty-four, with Sundays and legal holidays as 
the sole respite to find at the month's end that 
the only possible economics are pleasures one is 
at least better fitted to comprehend the standpoint 
of the worker; and one realizes that part of the 
universe is pursuing means to sustain an existence 
which, by reason of its hardship, they perforce cling 
to with indifference. I laid aside for a time every- 
thing pertaining to the class in which I was born 
and bred and became an American working- woman. 
I intended, in as far as was possible, to live as she 
lived, work as she worked. In thus approaching 
her I believed that I could share her ambitions, 
her pleasures, her privations. 

167 



1 68 INTRODUCTORY 

Working by her side day after day, I hoped to 
be a mirror that should reflect the woman who 
toils, and later, when once again in my proper 
sphere of life, to be her expositor in an humble 
way to be a mouthpiece for her to those who 
know little of the realities of everlasting labour. 

I have in the following pages attempted to solve 
no problem I have advanced no sociologic schemes. 
Conclusions must be drawn by those who read the 
simple, faithful description of the woman who toils 
as I saw her, as I worked beside her, grew to 
understand in a measure her point of view and to 
sympathize with her struggle. 

MARIE VAN VORST. 
Riverdale-on-Hudson, 
1902. 



A MAKER OF SHOES AT LYNN 



CHAPTER VH 
A MAKER OF SHOES AT LYNN 

" THOSE who work neither with their brains nor 
their hands are a menace to the public safety." 
Roosevelt. 

Well and good ! In the great mobs and riots of 
history, what class is it which forms the brawn and 
muscle and sinew of the disturbance? The work- 
men and workwomen in whom discontent has bred 
the disease of riot, the abnormality, the abortion 
known as Anarchy, Socialism. The hem of the 
uprising is composed of idlers and loungers, indeed, 
but it is the labourer's head upon which the red cap 
of protest is seen above the vortex of the crowd. 

That those who labour with their hands may have 
no cause to menace society, those who labour with their 
brains shall strive to encompass. 

Evils in any system American progress is sure to 
cure. Shops such as the Plant shoe factory in 
Boston, with its eight-hour labour, ample provision 
for escape in case of fire, its model ventilating, 
lavish employment of new machinery tells on the 
great manufacturing world. 

171 



172 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

Reason, human sympathy, throughout history 
have been enemies to slavery or its likeness: 
reason and sympathy suggest that time and place 
be given for the operative man and woman to rest, 
to benefit by physical culture, that the bowed 
figures might uplift the flabby muscles. Time 
is securely past when the manufacturers' greed 
may sweat the labourers' souls through the 
bodies' pores in order that more stuff may be turned 
out at cheaper cost. 

The people through social corporations, through 
labour unions, have made their demands for shorter 
hours and better pay. 



LYNN 

Luxuries to me are what necessities are to another. 
A boot too heavy, a dress ill-hung, a stocking too 
thick, are annoyances which to the self-indulgent 
woman of the world are absolute discomforts. To 
o*mit the daily bath is a little less than a crime in the 
calendar; an odour bordering on the foul creates 
nausea to nostrils ultra-refined; undue noises are 
nerve exhausting. If any three things are more 
unendurable to me than others, they are noises, bad 
smells and close air. 

I am in no wise unique, but represent a class as real 
as the other class whose sweat, bone and fiber make 
up a vast human machine turning out necessities 
and luxuries for the market. 




A DELICATE TYPE OF BEAUTY 
At work in a Lynn shoe factory 




ONE OF THE SWELLS OF THE FACTORY 
A very expert " vamper," an Irish girl, earning from $10 to Si 4 a week 



A MAKER OF SHOES AT LYNN 173 

The clothes I laid aside on December 18, 1901, 
were as follows: 

Hat $ 40 

Sealskin coat 200 

Black cloth dress . . . .150 
Silk underskirt .... 25 

Kid gloves 2 

Underwear 30 

$447 

The clothes I put on were as follows: 

Small felt hat $ .25 

Woolen gloves .25 

Flannel shirt-waist . . . .1.95 

Gray serge coat . . . . 3.00 

Black skirt 2.00 

Underwear . . . . i.oo 

Tippet i.oo 

$9-45 



When I outlined to my friends my scheme of 
presenting myself for work in a strange town with 
no introduction, however humble, and no friends 
to back me, I was assured that the chances were 
that I would in the end get nothing. I was told 
that it would be impossible to disguise my class, 
my speech; that I would be suspected, arouse 
curiosity and mistrust. 



One bitter December morning in 1901 I left 
Boston for Lynn, Mass. The route of my train 
ran close to marshes; frozen hard ice many feet 



174 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

thick covered the rocks and hillocks of earth, and 
on the dazzling winter scene the sun shone bril- 
liantly. 

No sooner had I taken my place in my plain attire 
than my former personality slipped from me as 
absolutely as did the garments I had discarded. I 
was Bell Ballard. People from whose contact I had 
hitherto pulled my skirts away became my compan- 
ions as I took my place shoulder to shoulder with 
the crowd of breadwinners. 

Lynn in winter is ugly. The very town itself 
seemed numbed and blue in the intense cold well 
below zero. Even the Christmas-time greens in 
the streets and holly in the store windows could 
not impart festivity to this city of workers. The 
thoroughfares are trolley lined, of course, and a 
little beyond the town's centre is a common, a 
white wooden church stamping the place New 
England. 

Lynn is made up of factories great masses of 
ugliness, red brick, many- windowed buildings. The 
General Electric has a concern in this town, but the 
industry is chiefly the making of shoes. The shoe 
trade in our country is one of the highest paying 
manufactures, and in it there are more women 
employed than in any other trade. Lynn's popula- 
tion is 70,000; of these 10,000 work in shoe-shops. 

The night must not find me homeless, houseless. 
I went first to a directory and found the address of 



A MAKER OF SHOES AT LYNN 175 

the Young Women's Christian Association: a room 
upstairs in a building on one of the principal streets. 
Here two women faced me as I made my appeal, 
and I saw at once displayed the sentiments of 
kindness thenceforth to greet me throughout my 
first experience qualities of exquisite sympathy, 
rare hospitality and human interest. 

" I am looking for work. I want to get a room in 
a safe place for the night." 

I had not for a moment supposed that anything 
in my attire of simple decorous work-clothes could 
awaken pity. Yet pity it was and nothing less in the 
older woman's face. 

"Work in the shops?" 

"Yes, ma'am." 

The simple fact that I was undoubtedly to make 
my own living and my own way in the hard hand- 
to-hand struggle in the shops aroused her sympathy. 

She said earnestly : " You must not go anywhere 
to sleep that you don't know about, child." 

She wrote an address for me on a slip of paper. 

" Go there; I know the woman. If she can't take 
you, why, come back here. I'll take you to my own 
house. I won't have you sleep in a strange town just 
anywheres! You might get into trouble." 

She was not a matron ; she was not even one of the 
staff of managers or directors. She was only a 
woman who had come in to ask some question, 
receive some information; and thus in marvelous 



1 76 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

friendliness she turned and outstretched her hand 
I was a stranger and this was her welcome. 

I had proved a point at the first step; help had 
been extended. If I myself failed to find shelter I 
could go to her for protection. I intended to find my 
lodging place if possible without any reference or any 
aid. 

Out of the town proper in a quiet side street I saw 
a little wooden tenement set back from the road. 

"Furnished Room to Rent," read the sign in the 
window. A sweet-faced woman responded to the 
bell I had rung. One glance at me and she said: 

"Ve only got a 'sheep' room." 

At the compliment I was ill-pleased and told her 
I was looking for a cheap room : I had come to Lynn 
to work. Oh! that was all right. That was the 
kind of people she received. 

I followed her into the house. I must excuse her 
broken English. She was French. Ah ! was she ? 
That made my way easier. I told her I was from 
Paris and a stranger in this part of the country, and 
thenceforth our understanding was complete. In 28 
Viger Street we spoke French always. 

My room in the attic was blue-and-white papered ; 
a little, clean, agreeable room. 

Madam begged that I would pardon the fact that 
my bed had no sheets. She would try to arrange 
later. She also insinuated that the " young ladies " 
who boarded with her spoiled all her floor and her 



A MAKER OF SHOES AT LYNN 177 

furniture by slopping the water around. I assured 
her that she should not have to complain of me I 
would take care. 

The room was $1.25 a week. Could I pay her in 
advance? I did so, of course. I would have to 
carry up my water for washing from the first floor 
morning and night and care for my room. On the 
landing below I made arrangements with the tenant 
for board at ten cents a meal. Madame Courier was 
also a French Canadian, a mammoth creature with 
engaging manners. 

" Mademoiselle Ballard has work?" 

"Not yet." 

"Well, if you don't get a job my husband will 
speak for you. I have here three other young 
ladies who work in the shops; they'll speak for 
you!" 

Before the door of the first factory I failed 
miserably. I could have slunk down the street and 
gladly taken the first train away from Lynn ! 
My garments were heavy; my skirt, lined with a 
sagging cotton goods, weighed a ton; the woolen 
gloves irritated. 

The shop fronted the street, and the very sight 
through the window of the individuals representing 
power, the men whom I saw behind the desks, 
frightened me. I could not go in. I fairly ran 
through the streets, but stopped finally before 
a humbler shop where a sign swung at the door: 



178 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

"Hands Wanted.'* I went in here and opened a 
door on the third floor into a small office. 

I was before a lank Yankee manufacturer. Lean- 
ing against his desk, twisting from side to side in his 
mouth a toothpick, he nodded to me as I entered. 
His wife, a grim, spectacled New Englander, sat in 
the revolving desk-chair. 

" I want work. Got any?" 

"Waal, thet's jist what we hev got! Ain't we, 
Mary?" 

(I felt a flashing sensation of triumph.) 

" Take your tippet off, set right down, ef you're in 
earnest." 

"Oh, I am in earnest; but what sort of work 
is it?" 

" It's gluein' suspender straps." 

"Suspenders! I want to work in a shoe-shop!" 

He smiled, indulgent of this whim. 

"They all does! Don't they, Mary?" (She 
acquiesced.) 

"Then they get sick of the shop, and they come 
back to me. You will !" 

" Let me try the shoe-shop first ; then if I can't get 
a job I'll come back." 

He was anxious to close with me, however, and 
took up a pile of the suspender straps, tempting me 
with them. 

"What you ever done?" 

" Nothing. I'm green 1" 



A MAKER OF SHOES AT LYNN 179 

" That don't make no difference ; they're all green, 
ain't they, Mary?" 

"Yes," Mary said; "I have to learn them all." 

"Now, to Preston's you can get in all right, but 
you won't make over four dollars a week, and 
here if you're smart you'll make six dollars in no 
time." . . . 

Preston's ! 

That was the first name I had heard, and to 
Preston's I was asking my way, stimulated by the 
fact, though I had been in Lynn not an hour and a 
half, a job was mine did I care to glue suspender 
straps ! 

I afterward learned that Preston's, a little factory 
on the town's outskirts, is a model shoe-shop in its 
way. I did not work there, and neither of the 
factories in which I was employed was "model" to 
my judgment. 

A preamble at the office, where they suggested 
taking me in as office help: 

"But I am green; I can't do office work." 

Then Mr. Preston himself, working-director in 
drilling-coat, sat before me in his private office. I 
told him: " I want work badly " 

He had nothing was, indeed, turning away 
hands; my evident disappointment had apparently 
impressed a man who was in the habit of refusing 
applicants for work. 

"Look here" he mitigated his refusal "come 






i8o THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

to-morrow at nine. I'm getting in a whole bale of 
cloth for cutting linings." 

"You'll give me a chance, then?" 

"Yes, I will!" 

It was then proven that I could not starve in Lynn, 
nor wander houseless. 

With these evidences of success, pride stirred. I 
determined before nightfall to be at work in a Lynn 
shoe-shop. It was now noon, streets filled with 
files and lines of freed operatives. Into a restaurant 
I wandered with part of the throng, and, with excite- 
ment and ambition for sauce, ate a good meal. 

Factories had received back their workers when I 
applied anew. This time the largest building, one of 
the most important shops in Lynn, was my goal. 
At the door of Parsons' was a sign reading: 
"Wanted, Vampers." 

A vamper I was not, but if any help was wanted 
there was hope. My demand for work was greeted 
at the office this time with "Any signs out ?" 

"Yes," 

(What they were I didn't deem it needful to say !) 
The stenographer nodded: "Go upstairs, then; ask 
the forelady on the fifth floor." 

Through the big building and the shipping-room, 
where cases of shoes were being crated for the 
market, I went, at length really within a factory's 
walls. From the first to the fifth floor I went in 
an elevator a freight elevator ; there are no others, 



A MAKER OF SHOES AT LYNN 181 

of course. This lift was a terrifying affair ; it shook 
and rattled in its shaft, shook and rattled in pitch 
darkness as it rose between " safety doors" contin- 
uations of the building's floors. These doors open 
to receive the ascending elevator, then slowly close, 
in order that the shaft may be covered and the 
operatives in no danger of stepping inadvertently 
to sudden death. 

I reached the fifth floor and entered into pande- 
monium. The workroom was in full working swing. 
At least five hundred machines were in operation 
and the noise was startling and deafening. 

I made my way to a high desk where a woman 
stood writing. I knew her for the forelady by her 
"air"; nothing else distinguished her from the 
employees. No one looked up as I entered. I was 
nowhere a figure to attract attention; evidently 
nothing in my voice or manner or aspect aroused 
supposition that I was not of the class I simulated. 

Now, into my tone, as I spoke to the forelady 
bending over her account book, I put all the force I 
knew. I determined she should give me something 
to do ! Work was everywhere : some of it should 
fall to my hand. 

"Say, I've got to work. Give me anything, any- 
thing; I'm green." 

She didn't even look at me, but called shrieked, 
rather above the machine din to her colleagues: 

"Got anything for a green hand?" 



i8 2 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

The person addressed gave me one glance, the 
sole and only look I got from any one in authority 
in Parsons' . 

"Ever worked in a shoe-shop before ?" 

"No, ma'am." 

"I'll have you learned pressin'; we need a presser. 
Go take your things off, then get right down over 
there." 

I tore off my outside garment in the cloak-room, 
jammed full of hats and coats. I was obliged to 
stack my belongings in a pile on the dirty floor. 

Now hatless, shirt-waisted, I was ready to labour 
amongst the two hundred bond-women around me. 
Excitement quite new ran through me as I went to 
the long table indicated and took my seat. My 
object was gained. I had been in Lynn two hours 
and a half and was a working- woman. 

On my left the seat was vacant; on my right 
Maggie McGowan smiled at me, although, poor 
thing, she had small cause to welcome the green 
hand who demanded her time and patience. She 
was to "learn me pressin'," and she did. 

Before me was a board, black with stains of 
leather, an awl, a hammer, a pot of foulest-smelling 
glue, and a package of piece-work, ticketed. The 
branch of the trade I learned at Parsons' was as 
follows : 

Before me was outspread a pile of bits of leather 
foxings, back straps, vamps, etc. Dipping my brush 



A MAKER OF SHOES AT LYNN 183 

in the glue, I gummed all the extreme outer edges. 
When the ''case" had been gummed, the first bits 
were dry, then the fingers turned down the gummed 
edges of the leather into fine little seams; these 
seams are then plaited with the awl and the ruffled 
hem flattened with the hammer this is ' 'pressing." 
The case goes from presser to the seaming machine. 

The instruments turn in my awkward fingers. I 
spread glue where it should not be : edges designated 
for its reception remain innocent. All this means 
double work later. "Twict the work!" my teacher 
remarks. Little by little, however, the simplicity 
of the manual action, the uniformity, the mechanical 
movement declare themselves. I glance from time 
to time at my expert neighbours, compare our work; 
in an hour I have mastered the method skill and 
rapidity can be mine only after many days; but I 
worked alone, unaided. 

As raw edges, at first defying my clumsiness, fell 
to fascinating rounds, as the awl creased the leather 
into the fluting folds, as the hammer mashed the 
gummed seam down, I enjoyed the process; it was 
kindergarten and feminine toil combined, not too 
hard ; but it was only the beginning ! 

Meanwhile my teacher, patient-faced, lightning- 
fingered, sat close to me, reeking perspiration, tired 
with the ordeal of instructing a greenhorn. With 
no sign of exhausted patience, however, she gummed 
my vamps with the ill-smelling glue. 



184 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

"This glue makes lots of girls sick ! In the other 
shops where I worked they just got sick, one by one, 
and quit. I stuck it out. The forelady said to me 
when I left : 'My ! I never thought anybody could 
stand it's long's you have.' ' 

I asked, "What would you rather do than this?" 

She didn't seem to know. 

"I don't do this for fun, though ! Nor do you 
I bet you!" 

(I didn't but not quite for her reason.) 

As I had yet my room to make sure of, I decided 
to leave early. I told Maggie McGowan I was going 
home. 

"Tired already ?" There was still an hour to dark. 

As I explained to her my reasons she looked at 
my amateur accomplishment spread on the board 
before us. I had only pressed a case of shoes three 
dozen pairs. 

"I guess I'll have to put it on my card," she 
soliloquized, " 'cause I learned you." 

"Do do " 

"It's only about seven cents, anyway." 

"Three hours' work and that's all I've made?" * 

She regarded me curiously, to see how the amount 
tallied with my hope of gain and wealth. 

"Yet you tell me I'm not stupid. How long 
have you been at it ?" 

* An expert presser can do as many as 400 shoes a day. This 
is rare and maximum. 




"LEARNING" A NEW HAND 

Miss P., an experienced "gaunmer" on vamp linings, is a New 
England girl, and makes $8 or $9 a week. The new hand makes 
from $2.soto$3a week at the same work 



A MAKER OF SHOES AT LYNN 185 

"Ten years.'* 

"And you make?" 

"Well, I don't want to discourage you." , . . 

(If Maggie used this expression once she used it a 
dozen times; it was her pat on the shoulder, her 
word of cheer before coming ill news.) 

". . . I don't want to discourage you, but it's 
slow ! I make about twelve dollars a week." 

"Then I will make four !" 

(Four? Could it be possible I dreamed of such 
sums at this stage of ignorance !) 

"/ don't want to discourage you, but I guess you'd 
better do housework !" 

It was clear, then, that for weeks I was to drop in 
with the lot of women wage-earners who make under 
five dollars a week for ten hours a day labour. 

"Why don't you do housework, Maggie?" 

"I do. I get up at five and do all the work of our 
house, cook breakfast, and clean up before I come to 
the shop. I eat dinner here. When I go home 
at night I get supper and tidy up !" 

My expression as I fell to gumming foxings was 
not pity for my own fate, as she, generous creature, 
took it to be. 

"After you've been here a few years," she said, 
"you'll make more than I do. I'm not smart. 
You'll beat me." 

Thus with tact she told me bald truth, and yet 
had not discouraged ! 



1 86 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

Novel situations, long walks hither and thither 
through Lynn, stairs climbed, and three hours of 
intense application to work unusual were tiring 
indeed. Nevertheless, as I got into my jacket and 
put on my hat in the suffocation of the cloak-room 
I was still under an exhilarating spell. I belonged, 
for time never so little, to the giant machine of which 
the fifth floor of Parsons' is only an infinitesimal 
humming, singing part. I had earned seven cents ! 
Seven cents of the $4,000,000 paid to Lynn shoe 
employees were mine. I had bought the right to one 
piece of bread by the toil of my unskilled labour. 
As I fastened my tippet of common black fur and 
drew on my woolen gloves, the odour from my glue- 
and leather-stained hands came pungent to my 
nostrils. Friends had said to me: "Your hands 
will betray you !" If the girls at my side in Parsons' 
thought anything about the matter they made no 
such sign as they watched my fingers swiftly lose 
resemblance to those of the leisure class under the use 
of instruments and materials damning softness and 
beauty from a woman's hands. 

Yet Maggie had her sensitiveness on this subject. 
I remarked once to her: "I don't' see how you 
manage to keep your hands so clean. Mine are 
twice as black." She coloured, was silent for a 
time, then said: "I never want anybody to speak 
to me of my hands. I'm ashamed of 'em ; they used 
to be real nice, though." She held the blunted 



A MAKER OF SHOES AT LYNN 187 

ends up. * 'They 're awful ! I do love a nice 
hand." 

The cold struck sharp as a knife as I came out 
of the factory. Fresh air, insolent with purity, 
cleanness, unusedness, smiting nostrils, sought lungs 
filled too long with unwholesome atmosphere.* 

Heated by a brisk walk home, I climbed the stairs 
to my attic room, as cold as Greenland. It was 
nearly six thirty, supper hour, and I made a shift 
at a toilet. 

Into the kitchen I was the last comer. All of the 
supper not on the table was on the stove, and between 
this red-hot buffet and the supper table was just 
enough room for the landlady to pass to and fro 
as she waited upon her nine guests. 

No sooner did I open the door into the smoky 
atmosphere, into the midst of the little world here 
assembled, than I felt the quick kindness of welcome. 

My place was at the table's end, before the Irish 
stew. 

"Miss Ballard!" The landlady put her arm 
about my waist and introduced me, mentioning the 
names of every one present. There were four 
women besides myself and four men. 

"I don't want Miss Ballard to feel strange," said 
my hostess in her pretty Canadian patois. "I want 
her to be at home here." 

I sat down. 

*At Plant's, Boston, fresh air cylinders ventilate the shop. 



i88 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

"Oh, she'll be at home all right!" A frowzy- 
headed, pretty brunette from the table's other end 
raised kind eyes to me and nodded a smiling good- 
fellowship. 

"Come to work in the shops ?" 

"Yes." 

"Ever been to Lynn before?" 

"No; live in Paris stranger." 

"My, but that's hard all alone here! Got a 
job?" 

"Yes." 

And I explained to the attentive interest of all. 

From the Irish stew before me they helped 
themselves, or passed to me the plates from the 
distance. If excitement had not taken from me 
every shred of appetite, the kitchen odours, smoke 
and frying, the room's stifling heat would have 
dulled hunger. 

Let it go ! I was far too interested to eat. 

The table was crowded with all manner of sub- 
stances passing for food cheese, preserves, onion 
pickles, cake and Irish stew, all eaten at one time and 
at will; the drink was tea. 

At my left sat a well-dressed man who would 
pass anywhere for a business man of certain dis- 
tinction. He was a common operator. Next him 
was a bridal couple, very young and good looking; 
then came the sisters, Mika and Nannette, their 
brother, a packer at a shop, then Mademoiselle 



A MAKER OF SHOES AT LYNN 189 

Frances, expert hand at fourteen dollars a week 
(a heavy swell indeed), then Maurice. 

Although I was evidently an object of interest, 
although countless questions were put to me, let me 
say that curiosity was markedly absent. Their 
attitude was humane, courteous, sympathetic, agree- 
able, which qualities I firmly believe are supreme 
in those who know hardship, who suffer privation, 
who labour. 

Great surprise was evinced that I had so soon 
found a job. Mika and Nannette, brunette Canadians, 
with voices sweet and carrying, talked in good 
English and mediocre French. 

41 It's wonderful you got a job right off ! Ain't she 
in luck ! Why, most has to get spoken of weeks in 
advance introduced by friends, too !" 

Mika said: "My name's been up two months at 
my sister's shop. The landlady told us about your 
coming, Miss Ballard. We was going to speak for 
you to our foreladies." 

Here my huge hostess, who during my stay stood 
close to my side as though she thought I needed her 
motherliness, put her hand on my shoulder. 

"Yes, mon enfant, we didn't want you to get 
discouraged in a strange place. Id nous sommes 
toute une famille" 

"All one family?" Oh, no, no, kind creature, 
hospitable receiver of a stranger, not all one family ! 
I belong to the class of the woman who, one day by 



THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

chance out of her carriage, did she happen to sit by 
your side in a cable car, would pull her dress from 
the contact of your clothes, heavy with tenement 
odours ; draw back as you crushed your huge form 
down too close to her; turn no look of sisterhood 
to your face, brow-bound by the beads of sweat, its 
signet of labour. 

Not one family! I am one with the hostess, 
capable even of greeting her guest with insolent 
discourtesy did such a one chance to intrude at an 
hour when her presence might imperil the next step 
of the social climber's ladder. 

Not one family, but part of the class whose tongues 
turn the truffle buried in pate de joie gras; whose lips 
are reddened with Burgundies and cooled with iced 
champagnes ; who discuss the quality of a canard a 
la presse throughout a meal; who have no leisure, 
because they have no labour such as you know the 
term to mean ; who create disease by feeding bodies 
unstimulated by toil, whilst you, honestly tired, 
really hungry, eat Irish stew in the atmosphere of 
your kitchen dining-hall. 

Not one family, I blush to say ! God will not have 
it so. 

The Irish stew had all disappeared, every vestige. 

"But mademoiselle eats nothing a bird's appe- 
tite." And here was displayed the first hint of 
vulgarity we are taught to look for in the other class. 

She put her hands about my arms. " Tiens! un 



A MAKER OF SHOES AT LYNN 191 

bras tout de meme!" and she looked at Maurice, the 
young man on my right. 

"Maurice c'est toi qui devrait t' informer des bras 
d 1 mademoiselle. ' ' 

("Maurice, it is you who should inform yourself 
of mademoiselle's arms.") 

Maurice laughed with appreciation, as did the 
others. He was the sole American at table; out of 
courtesy for him we talked English from time to time, 
although he assured us he understood all we said in 
"the jargon." 

To Maurice a master pen could do justice; none 
other. His type is seen stealing around corners in 
London's Whitechapel and in the lowest quarters of 
New York: a lounger, indolent, usually drunk. 
Maurice was the type, with the qualities absent. 
Tall, lank, loosely hung together, made for muscular 
effort, he wore a dark flannel shirt, thick with grease 
and oil stains, redolent with tobacco, a checked waist- 
coat, no collar or cravat. From the collarless circle 
of his shirt rose his strong young neck and bullet 
head ; his forehead was heavy and square below the 
heavy brows ; his black eyes shone deep sunken in 
their caverns. 

His black hair, stiff as a brush, came low on his 
forehead ; his mouth was large and sensual, his teeth 
brilliant. But his hands ! never to be forgotten ! 
Scrubbed till flesh might well have parted from the 



i 9 2 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

bones ! clean, even if black and mutilated with toil; 
fingers forever darkened; stained ingrained ridges 
rising around the nails, hard and ink-black as 
leather. Maurice was Labour its Symbol its 
Epitome. 

At the landlady's remark he had blushed and 
addressed me frankly: 

"Say, I work to de 'Lights.'" 

(Lights ! Can such a word be expressive of the 
factory which has daily blackened and scarred and 
dulled this human instrument ?) 

"To the 'Lights,' and it ain't no cinch, I can tell 
you ! I got to keep movin'. Every minute I'm 
late I get docked for wages it's a day's work to the 
'Lights.' When she calls me at six why, I don't 
turn over and snooze another! I just turn right 
out. I walk two miles to my shop and every man 
in his place at 6:45 Don't you forgit it !" 

He cleaned his plate of food. 

"I jest keep movin' all de time." 

He wiped his mouth rose unceremoniously, put 
on his pot-like derby a jaunt, lit a vile cigar, slipped 
into a miserable old coat, and was gone, the odour 
of his weed blending its new smell with kitchen 
fumes. 

He is one of the absolutely real creatures I have 
ever seen. Of his likeness types of crime are drawn. 
Maurice blade keen-edged, hidden in its battered 
sheath, its ugly case terrible yet attractive speci- 



A MAKER OF SHOES AT LYNN 193 

men of strength and endurance Youth and Man- 
hood in you are bound to labour as on the rack, 
and in the ordeal you keep (as does the mass of 
humanity) Silence ! 

Eat by this man's side, heap his plate with coarse 
victuals, feel the touch of his flannel sleeve against 
your own flannel blouse, see his look of brotherhood 
as he says : 

"Say, if de job dey give you is too hard, why, I 
guess I kin get yer in to the * Lights' !" 

These are sensations facts alone can give. 

After dinner we sit all together in the parlour, the 
general living-room: carpet-covered sofa, big table, 
few chairs that's all. We talk an hour and on 
what? We discuss Bernhardt, the divine Sarah. 
" Good shows don't come to Lynn much ; it don't pay 
them. You can't get more than fifty cents a seat. 
Now Bernhardt don't like to act for fifty-cent houses ! 
But the theatres are crowded if ever there's a good 
show. We get tired of the awful poor shows to the 
Opera House." Maude Adams was a favourite. 
Rejane had been seen. Of course, the vital American 
interest money is touched upon, let me say 
lightly, and passed. The packer at Rigger's, intelli- 
gent and well-informed and well-read, discoursed in 
good French about English and French politics 
and on the pleasure it would be to travel and 
see the world. 



i 9 4 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

At nine, friendly handshaking. " Good-night. 
You're tired. You'll like it all right to the shops, 
see if you don't ! You'll make money, too. The 
forelady must a- seen that you were ambitious. 
Why, to my shop when a new hand applies for a 
job the foreman asks: 'What does he look like? 
Ambitious lookin' ? Well, then there's room." 

Ambitious to make shoes ! To grind out all you 
can above the average five dollars a week, all you 
may by conscientious, unflagging work during 224 
hours out of a month. 

Good-night to the working world ! Landlady and 
friendly co-labourers. 

"// ne faut pas vous gener, mademoiselle; nous 
sommes toute une famille" 

Upstairs in my room the excitement died quite 
out of me. I lay wakeful in the hard, sheetless bed. 
It was cold, my window-pane freezing rapidly. I 
could not sleep. On either side, through the thin 
walls of the house, I could hear my neighbours 
settling to repose. Maurice's room was next to mine. 
He whistled a short snatch of a topical song as he 
undressed. On the other side slept the landlady's 
children; opposite, the packer from Rigger's. The 
girls' room was downstairs. When Maurice's song 
had reached its close he heaved a profound sigh, 
and then followed silence, as slumber claimed the 
sole period of his existence not devoted to work. 
The tenement soon passed to stillness complete. 






A MAKER OF SHOES AT LYNN 195 

Before six the next morning black as night 
the call: "Mau rice! Mau rice!" rang through 
the hall. Summons to us all, given through him on 
whom the exigencies of life fell the heaviest. 
Maurice worked by day system the rest of us were 
freed men and women by comparison. 

The night before, timid and reluctant to descend 
the two flights of pitch dark stairs with a heavy 
water-pitcher in my hand, I had brought up no 
water ! It is interesting to wonder how scrupulous 
we would all be if our baths were carried up and 
down two flights of stairs pitcher by pitcher. A 
little water nearly frozen was at hand for my toilet. 
By six I was dressed and my bed made; by 6 115 in 
the kitchen, dense with smoke from the frying break- 
fast. Through the haze the figures of my friends 
declared themselves. Codfish balls, bread and 
butter and coffee formed the repast. 

Maurice is the first to finish, standing a moment to 
light his pipe, his hat acock ; then he is gone. The 
sisters wash at the sink, Mika combing her mass of 
frowzy dark hair, talking meanwhile. The sisters' 
toilet, summary and limited, is frankly displayed. 

At my right the bride consumes five enormous 
fish balls, as well as much bread. Her husband, a 
young, handsome, gentle creature, eats sparingly. 
His hand is strapped up at the wrist. 

"What's wrong?" 

"Strained tendons. Doctor says they'd be all 



196 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

right if I could just hold up a little. They don't get 
no chance to rest." 

"But why not 'hold up' awhile?" He regards 
me sympathetically as one who says to an equal, a 
fellow : ' ' You know why ! for the same reason that 
you yourself will work sick or well." 

" On fait ce que Von peut! " 

("One does one's best !") 

When the young couple had left the room our 
landlady said : 

"The little woman eats well, doesn't she! She 
needs no tonic ! All day long she sits in my parlour 
and rocks and rocks." 

"She does nothing?" 

Madame shrugged. 

' ' But yes ! She reads novels ! ' ' 

It was half-past six when I got into the streets. 
The midwinter sky is slowly breaking to dawn. The 
whole town white with fresh snow, and still half- 
wedded to night, is nevertheless stirring to life. 

I become, after a block or two, one of a hurrying 
throng of labour-bound fellows dark forms appear 
from streets and avenues, going in divers direc- 
tions toward their homes. Homes? Where one 
passes most of one's life, is it not Home? 

These figures to-day bend head and shoulders 
against the wind as it blows neck-coverings about, 
forces bare hands into coat pockets. 

By the time the town has been traversed, railroad 



A MAKER OF SHOES AT LYNN 197 

track crossed, and Parsons' in sight, day has nearly 
broken. Pink clouds float over factory roofs in a 
sky growing bluer, flushing to day. 

From now on the day is shut out for those who 
here and there enter the red-brick factories. An 
hour at noon? Of course, this magnificent hour is 
theirs ! Time to eat, time to feed the human 
machine. One hour in which to stretch limbs, to pull 
to upright posture the bent body. Meanwhile day- 
light progresses from glowing beauty to high noon, 
and there the acme of brilliance seems to pause, as 
freed humanity stares half -blinded at God's midday 
rest. 

All the remaining hours of daylight are for the 
leisure world. Not till night claims Lynn shall the 
factory girl be free. 

Ascending the five flights of dirty stairs, my steps 
fell side by side those of a young workman in 
drilling coat. He gave me a good-morning in a 
cheery tone. 

1 ' Working here ? Got it good ? ' ' 

"I guess so." 

"That's all right. Good-day." 

Therefore I began my first labour day with a good 
wish from my new class ! 

On the fifth floor I was one of the very first 
arrivals. If in the long, low-ceiled room windows 
had been opened, the flagging air gave no sign to the 
effect. It was fetid and cold. Daylight had not 



ig8 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

fully found the workshop, gas was lit, and no work 
prepared. I was eager to begin, but was forced to 
wait before idle tools till work was given me hard 
ordeal for ambitious piece-worker. At the tick of 
seven, however, I had begun my branch of the shoe- 
making trade. One by one my mates arrived ; the 
seats beyond me and on either side were filled. 

Opposite me sat a ghost of girlhood. A tall, 
slender creature, cheeks like paper, eyes sunken. 
She, too, had the smile of good-fellowship coin 
freely passed from workwoman to workwoman. 

This girl's job was filthy. She inked edges of the 
shoes with a brush dipped in a pot of thick black 
fluid. Pile after pile of piece-work was massed in 
front of her ; pile by pile disappeared. She worked 
like lightning. 

"Do you like your job?" I ventured. This 
seemed to be the open sesame to all conversations in 
the shops. She shrugged her narrow shoulders but 
made no direct reply. " I used to have what you're 
doing; it's awful. That glue made me sick. I was 
in bed. So when I came back I got this." She was 
separated from my glue-pot by a table's length only. 

" But don't you smell it from here?" 

"Not so bad; this here" (pointing to her black 
fluid) "smells stronger; it drownds it. 

" I make my wages clear," she announced to me a 
few minutes later. 

"How do you mean?" 



A MAKER OF SHOES AT LYNN 199 

"Why, at noon I wait in a restaurant; they give 
me my dinner afterward. I go back there and wait 
on the table at supper, too. My vittles don't cost 
me anything !' ' 

So that is where your golden noon hour is spent, 
standing, running, waiting, serving in the ill-smelling 
restaurant I shall name later; and not your dinner 
hour alone, but the long day's fag end ! 

"I ain't from these parts," she continued, confi- 
dentially, "I'm down East. I used to run a machine, 
but it hurts my side." 

My job went well for an amateur. I finished one 
case of shoes (thirty-six pairs) in little more than an 
hour. By ten o'clock the room grew stifling hot. I 
was obliged to discard my dress skirt and necktie, 
loosen collar, roll up my sleeves. My warmer 
blooded companions did the like. It was singular 
to watch the clock mark out the morning hours, 
and at ten, already early, very early in the fore- 
noon, feel tired because one had been three hours 
at work. 

A man came along with nuts and apples in a basket 
to sell. I bought an apple for five cents. It was 
regarded by my teacher, Maggie, as a prodigal 
expenditure ! I shared it with her, and she in turn 
shared her half with her neighbours, advising me 
wisely. 

"Say, you'd better earn an apple before you buy 
one !" 



200 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

My companion on the other side was a pretty 
country girl. She regarded her work with good- 
humoured indifference; indeed, her labour was of 
very indifferent quality. I don't believe she was 
ever intended to make shoes. In a cheerful under- 
tone she sang topical songs the morning long. It 
drove Maggie McGowan "mad," so she said. 

"Say, why don't some of youse sing?" said the 
little creature, looking down our busy line. "I 
never hear no singing in the shops." 

Maggie said, "Sing ! Well, I don't come here to 
sing." 

The other laughed sweetly. 

"Well, I jest have to sing." 

"You seem happy; are you?" She looked at me 
out of her pretty blue eyes. 

"You bet ! That's the way to be !" Then after 
a little, in an aside to me alone, she whispered: 

"Not always. Sometimes I cry all to myself. 

"See the sun?" she exclaimed, lifting her head. 
(It shone golden through the window's dirty, cloudy 
pane.) "He's peekin' at me ! He'll find you soon. 
Looks like he was glad to see us sitting here !" 

Sun, friend, light, air, seek them seek them ! 
Pour what tide of pure gold you may in through the 
sullied pane; touch, caress the bowed heads at the 
clicking machines ! Shine on the dusty, untidy 
hair ! on the bowed shoulders ! on the flying hands ! 

At noon I made a reluctant concession to wisdom 



A MAKER OF SHOES AT LYNN 201 

and habit. Unwilling to thwart my purposes and 
collapse from sheer fatigue, at the dinner hour I 
went to a restaurant and ordered a meal in keeping 
with my appetite. I had never been so hungry. 
I almost wept with joy when the chicken and cran- 
berry and potato appeared. Never was sauce more 
poignant than that which seasoned the only real 
repast I had in Lynn. 

The hours from one to three went fairly well, but 
by 3:30 I was tired out, my fingers had grown 
wooden with fatigue, glue-pot and folding-line, 
board, hammer and awl had grown indistinct. It 
was hard-to continue. The air stifled. Odours 
conspired together. Oil, leather, glue (oh, that 
to-heaven-smelling glue !) , tobacco smoke, humanity. 

Maggie asked me, ''How old do I look?" I gave 
her thirty. Twenty-five it seemed she was. In 
guessing the next girl's age no better luck. "It's 
this," Maggie nodded to the workroom; "it takes it 
out of you ! Just you wait till you've worked ten 
years in Lynn." 

Ten years ! Heaven forbid ! Already I could 
have rushed from the factory, shaken its dust from 
my feet, and with hands over ears shut out the 
horrid din that inexorably cried louder than human 
speech. 

Everything we said was shrieked in the friendly 
ear bent close. 



202 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

Although Maggie McGowan was curious about 
me, in posing her questions she was courtesy itself. 

"Say," to her neighbour, "where do you think 
Miss Ballard's from? Paris !" 

My neighbour once-removed leaned forward to 
stare at me. "My, but that's a change to Lynn ! 
Ain't it ? Now don't you think you'll miss it ?" 

She fell to work again, and said after a little: 
"Paris ! Why, that's like a dream. Is it like real 
places ? I can't never guess what it is like I" 

The girl at the machine next mine had an ear like 
a sea-shell, a skin of satin. Her youth was bound, 
strong shoulders already stooped, chest fast narrow- 
ing. At 7 A. M. she came: albeit fresh, pale still and 
wan ; rest of the night too short a preparation for the 
day's work. By three in the afternoon she was 
flushed, by five crimson. She threw her hands up 
over her head and exclaimed: "My back's broke, 
and I've only made thirty-five cents to-day. " 

Maggie McGowan (indicating me) : "Here's a 
girl who's had the misfortune never to work in a 
shoe-shop." 

"Misfortune ? You don't mean that !" 

Maggie: "Well, I guess I don't! If I didn't 
make a joke now and then I'd jump into the river !" 

She sat close to me patiently directing my clumsy 
fingers. 

"Why do you speak so strongly? 'Jump into 
the river !' That's saying a lot !" 



A MAKER OF SHOES AT LYNN 203 

"I am sick of the shoe-shops.'* 

"How long have you been at this work?" 

"Ten years. When you have worked ten years 
in Lynn you will be sick of the shops." 

I was sick of the shops, and I had not worked ten 
years. And for my hard-toiling future, such as she 
imagined that it would be, I could see that she 
pitied me. Once, supposing that since I am so 
green and so ill-clad, and so evidently bent on learn- 
ing my trade the best I knew, she asked me in a voice 
quick with sisterhood: 

"Say, are you hungry?" 

"No, no, no." 

"You'll be all right ! No American girl need to 
starve in America." 

In the shops the odours are more easily endured 
than is the noise. All conversation is shrieked out, 
and all the vision that one has as one lifts one's eyes 
from time to time is a sky seen through dirty window- 
panes, distant chimney-pots, and the roof-lines of 
like houses of toil. 

I gathered this from our interrupted talk that 
flowed unceasingly despite the noise of our hammers 
and the noise of the general room. 

They worked at a trade uncongenial. Not one 
had a good word to say for shop-labour there, despite 
its advantages, in this progressive land of generous 
pay. Each woman in a narrow, touching degree 



204 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

was a dreamer. Housework ! too servile ; but then, 
compared to shopwork it was leisure. 

By four the gas was lit here and there where 
burners were available. Over our heads was no 
arrangement for lighting. We bent lower in semi- 
obscurity. In the blending of twilight and gaslight 
the room became mysterious, a shadowy corridor. 
Figures grew indistinct, softened and blurred. The 
exhausted air surrounded the gas jets in misty 
circles. 

Unaltered alone was the ceaseless thud, the 
chopping, pounding of the machinery, the long 
soughing of the power-engine. 

Here and there a woman stops to rest a second, 
her head sunk in her hand; or she rises, stretches 
limbs and body. A man wanders in from the next 
room, a pipe in his mouth, or a bad cigar, and pausing 
by one of the pale operators, whose space of rest is 
done, he flings down in front of her a new pile of 
piece-work from the cutting machines. 

We are up five flights of stairs. There are at least 
two hundred girls. Machine oil, rags, refuse, cover 
the floor such debris as only awaits a spark from a 
lighted match or cigar to burst into flames. Despite 
laws and regulations the building is not fire-proof. 
There is no fire-escape. A cry of fire, and great 
Heaven ! what escape for two hundred of us from 
this mountain height, level with roofs of the 
distant town ! 



A MAKER OF SHOES AT LYNN 205 

Thus these women, shapes mysterious in gaslight 
and twilight, labour: life is at stake; health, youth, 
vigour, supply little more than bread. I rise; my 
bruised limbs, at first numb, then aching, stir for 
the first time after five hours of steady work. The 
pile of shoes before me is feeble evidence of the last 
hours' painful effort. 

I get into my clothes skirt, jacket and hat, all 
impregnated now with factory and tenement odours, 
and stumble downstairs and out into the street. I 
have earned fifty cents to-day but then, I am 
green ! 

When once more in the cool, fresh air, released, 
I draw in a long and grateful breath. 

Lynn on this winter night is a snow-bound, 
midwinter village. In the heavens is the moon's 
ghost, a mist-shrouded, far-away disk. But it is 
the Christmas moon, shining on the sleeping thou- 
sands in the town, where night alone is free. 
The giant factories are silent, the machines at 
last quiet, the long workrooms moon-invaded. 
Labour is holy, but serfdom is accursed, and toil 
which demands that every hour of daylight should 
be spent in the race for existence all of the day- 
light is kin to slavery ! There is no time for mental 
or physical upright-standing, no time for pleasure. 

One day I decided to consider myself dismissed 
from Parsons'. They had taught me all they could, 



206 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

unless I changed my trade, in that shop ; I wished 
to learn a new one in another. Therefore, one morn- 
ing I applied at another factory, again one of the 
largest in Lynn. The sign read : 

"Cleaner Wanted!" 

"Cleaner" sounded easy to learn. My experience 
this time was with a foreman instead of a forelady. 
The workroom I sought was on the second floor, a 
room filled with men, all of them standing. Far 
down the room's centre I saw the single figure of a 
woman at her job. By her side I was soon to be, 
and we two the sole women on the second floor. 

The foreman was distinctly a personage. Small, 
kind, alive, he wore a straw hat and eye-glasses. 
He had decided in a moment that my short 
application for "something to do" was not to be 
gainsaid. 

"Ever worked before ?" 

This time I had a branch of a trade at my fingers* 
ends. 

"Yes, sir; presser." 

I was proud of my trade. 

I did not even know, as I do now, that "cleaning" 
is the filthiest job the trade possesses. It is in bad 
repute and difficult to secure a woman to do the 
unpleasant work. 

"You come with me," he said cheerfully; "I'll 
teach you." 

The forelady at Parsons' did not know whether I 



A MAKER OF SHOES AT LYNN 207 

worked well or not. She never came to see. The 
foreman in Marches' taught me himself. 

Two high desks, like old-time school desks, rose 
in the workshop's centre. Behind one of these I 
stood, whilst the foreman in front of me instructed 
my ignorance. The room was filled with high 
crates rolled hither and thither on casters. These 
crates contained anywhere from thirty-two to fifty 
pairs of boots. The cases are moved from operator 
to operator as each man selects the shoes to apply 
to them the especial branch of his trade. From the 
crate of boots rolled to my side I took four boots and 
placed them on the desk before me. With the heel 
of one pressed against my breast, I dipped my fore- 
finger in a glass of hot soap and water, water which 
soon became black as ink. I passed my wet, soapy 
finger all around the boot's edges, from toe to heel. 
This loosened, in the space between the sole and 
vamp, the sticky dye substance on the leather and 
particles so-called " dirt." Then with a bit of wood 
covered with Turkish toweling I scraped the shoe 
between the sole and vamp and with a third cloth 
polished and rubbed the boot clean. In an hour's 
time I did one-third as well as my companion. 
I cleaned a case in an hour, whilst she cleaned three. 

When my employer had left me I observed the 
woman at my side: an untidy, degraded-looking 
creature, long past youth. Her hands beggared 
description; their covering resembled skin not at 



208 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

all, but a dark-blue substance, leatherlike, bruised, 
ingrained, indigo-hued. Her nails looked as though 
they had been beaten severely. One of her thumbs 
was bandaged. 

"I lost one nail; rotted off." 

"Horrible! How, pray?" 

"That there water: it's poison from the shoe-dye." 

Swiftly my hands were changing to a faint likeness 
of my companion's. 

" Don't tell him," she said, "that I told you that. 
He'll be mad; he'll think I am discouraging you. 
But you'll lose your forefinger nail, all right !" Then 
she gave a little laugh as she turned her boot around 
to polish it. 

"Once I tried to clean my hands up. Lord ! it's 
no good ! I scrub 'em with a scrubbin'-brush on 
Sundays." 

"How long have you been at this job ?" 

"Ten months." 

They called her "Bobby"; the men from their 
machines nodded to her now and then, bantering 
her across the noise of their wheels. She was igno- 
rant of it, too stupid to know whether life took her in 
sport or in earnest ! The men themselves worked in 
their flannel shirts. Not far from us was a wretchedly 
ill-looking individual, the very shadow of manhood. 
I observed that once he cast toward us a look of 
interest. Under my feet was a raised platform on 
which I stood, bending to my work. During the 



A MAKER OF SHOES AT LYNN 209 

morning the consumptive man strolled over and 
whispered something to " Bobby." He made her 
dullness understand. When he had gone back to his 
job she said to me: 

"Say, w'y don't yer push that platform away and 
stand down on the floor? You're too tall to need 
that. It makes yer bend." 

"Did that man come over to tell you this ?" 

' ' Yes. He said it made you tired. ' ' 

From my work, across the room, I silently blessed 
the pale old man, bowed, thin, pitiful, over the shoe 
he held, obscured from me by the cloud of sawdust- 
like flying leather that spun scattered from the sole 
he held to the flying wheel. 

I don't believe the shoe-dye really to be poisonous. 
I suppose it is scarcely possible that it can be so ; 
but the constant pressure against forefinger nail is 
enough to induce disease. My ringers were swollen 
sore. The effects of the work did not leave my hands 
for weeks. 

"Bobby" was not talkative or communicative 
simply because she had nothing to say. Over and 
over again she repeated the one single question to 
me during the time I worked by her side: "Do you 
like your job?" and although I varied my replies as 
well as I could with the not too exhausting topic 
she offered, I could not induce her to converse. She 
took no interest in my work, absorbed in her own, 



210 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

Every now and then she would compute the sum 
she had made, finally deciding that the day was to 
be a red-bean day and she would make a dollar and 
fifty cents. During the time we worked together 
she had cleaned seventeen cases of shoes. 

In this shop it was hotter than in Parsons' . We 
sweltered at our work. Once a case of shoes was 
cleaned, I wrote my initial "B" on the tag and rolled 
the crate across the floor to the man next me, who 
took it into his active charge. 

The foreman came to me many times to inspect, 
approve and encourage. He was a model teacher 
and an indefatigable superintendent. Just how far 
personal, and just how far human, his kindness, 
who can say ? 

"You've been a presser long at the shoe-shops?" 

"No." 

"I like your pluck. When a girl has never had to 
work, and takes hold the way you do, I admire it. 
You will get along all right." 

"Thank you; perhaps I won't, though." 

"Now, don't get nervous. I am nervous myself," 
he said ; "I know how that is. ' ' 

On his next visit he asked me: "Where you goin' 
to when you get out of here to-night ?" 

I told him that I was all right that I had a place 
to stay. 

"If you're hard up, don't get discouraged; come 
to me." 



A MAKER OF SHOES AT LYNN 211 

I thanked him again and said that I could not 
take charity." 

"Nonsense! I don't call it charity ! If I was hard 
put, don't you s'pose I'd go to the next man if he 
offered me what I offer you ? The world owes you a 
livin'." 

When the foreman had left me I turned to look at 
" Bobby." She was in the act of lifting to her lips 
a glass of what was supposed to be water. 

"You're not going to drink that 1" I gasped, 
horrified. "Where did you get it ?" 

"Oh, I drawed it awhile ago," she said. 

It had stood gathering microbes in the room, 
visible ones evidently, for a scum had formed on the 
glass that looked like stagnant oil. She blew the 
stuff back and drank long. Her accent was so bad 
and her English so limited I took her to be a foreigner 
beyond doubt. She proved to be an American. 
She had worked in factories all her life, since she was 
eight years old, and her brain was stunted. 

At dinner time, when I left Marches', I had stood, 
without sitting down once, for five hours, and accord- 
ing to Bobby's computation I had made the large 
sum of twenty-five cents, having cleaned a little 
more than one hundred shoes. To all intents, at 
least for the moment, my hands were ruined. At 
Weyman's restaurant I went in with my fellow 
workwomen and men. 

Weyman's restaurant smells very like the steerage 



THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 



in a vessel. The top floor having burned out a few 
weeks before, the ceiling remained blackened and 
filthy. The place was so close and foul-smelling that 
eating was an ordeal. If I had not been so famished, 
it would have been impossible for me to swallow a 
mouthful. I bought soup and beans, and ate, in 
spite of the inconveniences, ravenously, and paid 
for my dinner fifteen cents. Most of my neighbours 
took one course, stew or soup. I rose half-satisfied, 
dizzy from the fumes and the bad air. I am safe 
in saying that I never smelled anything like to 
Weyman's, and I hope never to again. Never again 
shall I hear food and drink discussed by the gourmet 
discuss, indeed, with him over his repast but 
there shall rise before me Weyman's restaurant, low- 
ceiled, foul, crowded to overflowing. I shall see 
the diners bend edged appetites to the unpalatable 
food. These Weyman patrons, mark well, are the 
rich ones, the swells of labour able to squander 
fifteen to twenty cents on their stew and tea. There 
are dozens, you remember, still in the unaired fourth 
and fifth stories at "lunching" over their sand- 
wiches. Far more vivid, more poignant even must 
be to me the vision of " Bobby." I shall see her 
eat her filthy sandwich with her blackened hands, 
see her stoop to blow the scum of deadly matter 
from her typhoid-breeding glass. 

In Lynn, unless she boards at home, a girl's living 



A MAKER OF SHOES AT LYNN 213 

costs her at best $3.75 a week. If she be of the 
average* her month's earnings are $32. Reduce 
this by general expenses and living and her surplus 
is $16, to earn which she has toiled 224 hours. You 
will recall that there are, out of the 22,000 operatives 
in Massachusetts, 5,000 who make under $5 a week. 
I leave the reader to compute from this the luxuries 
and possible pleasures consistent with this income. 

A word for the swells of the trade, for swells exist. 
One of my companions at 28 Viger Street made 
$14 a week. Her expenses were $4; she there- 
fore had at her disposition about $40 a month. She 
had no family every cent of her surplus she spent on 
her clothes. 

"I like to look down and see myself dressed nice," 
she said; "it makes me feel good. I don't like 
myself in poor clothes." 

She was well-dressed her furs good, her hat 
charming. We walked to work side by side, she 
the lady of us. Of course she belongs to the Union. 
Her possible illness is provided for; her death will 
bring $100 to a distant cousin. She is only tired 
out, thin, undeveloped, pale, that's all. She is 
almost a capitalist, and extremely well dressed. 

Poor attire, if I can judge by the reception I met 
with in Lynn, influences only those who by reason 
of birth, breeding and education should be above 
such things. In Viger Street I was more simply 

* Lynn's average wages are $8 per week. 



2i 4 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

clad than my companions. My aspect called forth 
only sisterhood and kindness. 

Fellowship from first to last, fellowship from their 
eyes to mine, a spark kindled never to be extin- 
guished. The morning I left my tenement lodging 
Mika took my hand at the door. 

"Good-by." Her eyes actually filled. "I'm 
awful sorry you're going. If the world don't treat 
you good come back to us." 

I must qualify a little. One member of the 
working class there was on whom my cheap clothes 
had a chilling effect the spoiled creature of the 
traveling rich, a Pullman car porter on the train 
from Boston to New York ! Although I called him 
first and purposely gave him my order in time, he 
viewed me askance and served me the last of all. 
As I watched my companions in their furs and 
handsome attire eat, whilst I sat and waited, my 
woolen gloves folded in my lap, I wondered if any 
one of the favoured was as hungry, as famished as the 
presser from Parsons', the cleaner from Marches'. 



THE SOUTHERN COTTON MILLS 



CHAPTER VIII 
THE SOUTHERN COTTON MILLS 

THE MILL VILLAGE 

Columbia, South Carolina, of course is conscious 
that there are mills without its city precincts. It is 
proud of the manufacture that gives the city 
precedence and commercial value all over the world. 
The trolley runs to the mills empty, as a rule, after 
the union depot is passed. 

Frankly, what is there to be seen in these dusty 
suburbs? Entry to the mills themselves is difficult, 
if not absolutely impossible. And that which forms 
the background for the vast buildings, the Mill 
Village, is a section to be shunned like the plague. 
Plague is not too strong a word to apply to the 
pest-ridden, epidemic-filled, filthy settlement where 
in this part of the country the mill-hand lives, 
moves and has his being, horrible honeycomb of 
lives, shocking morals and decency. 

Around Columbia there lie five mills and their 
respective settlements Excelsior, the Granton, 
Calcutta, the Richland and the Capital City. Each 
of these mills boasts its own so-called town. When 

217 



218 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

these people are free on Saturday afternoon and 
Sunday they are too exhausted to do anything but 
turn into their hovels to sleep. At most on Saturday 
afternoons or Sundays they board a trolley and 
betake themselves to a distant park which, in the 
picturesque descriptions of Columbia, reads like an 
Arcadia and is in reality desolation. 

The mill-hands are not from the direct section of 
Columbia. They are strangers brought in from 
"the hills" by the agents of the company, who go 
hither and thither through the different parts of the 
country describing to the poor whites and the hill 
dwellers work in the mills as a way to riches and 
success. Filled with dreams of gain and possessions, 
with hopes of decent housing and schooling for their 
children, they leave their distant communities and 
troop to the mills. These immigrants are pictur- 
esque, touching to see. They come with all they 
own in the world on their backs or in their hands ; 
penniless; burrs and twigs often in the hair of the 
young girls. They are hatless, barefooted, ignorant ; 
innocent for the most part and hopeful ! What the 
condition of these labourers is after they have 
tested the promises of the manufacturer and found 
them empty bubbles can only be understood and 
imagined when one has seen their life, lived among 
them, worked by their side, and comprehended the 
tragedy of this population a floating population, 
going from Granton to Excelsior, from Excelsior 



THE SOUTHERN COTTON MILLS 219 

to Richland, hither and thither, seeking seeking 
better conditions. They have no affiliation with the 
people of the town; they are looked down upon as 
scum: and in good sooth, for good reason, scum 
they are ! 

It is spring, warm, gracious. This part of the 
world seems to be well-nigh treeless ! There is no 
generous foliage, but wherever there are branches 
to bear it the first green has started out, delicate, 
tender and beautiful. 

In my simple work garb I leave Columbia and take 
a trolley to the mill district. I have chosen Excelsior 
as best for my purpose. Its reputation is most at 
stake; its prospectus dazzling; its annals effective. 
If such things are done in Gath . . . ! 

I cannot say with what timidity I descend from 
the tram in this strange country, foreign to my 
Northern habitation and filled with classes whose 
likeness I have never seen and around which the 
Southern Negro makes a sad and gloomy background. 

Before the trolley has arrived at the corporation 
stores Excelsior has spoken roared, clicked forth 
so vibrantly, so loudly, I am prepared to feel the 
earth shake. This is the largest mill in the world 
and looks it ! A model, too in point of view of 
architecture. I have read in the prospectus that it 
represents $1,750,000 capital, possesses 104,000 
spindles, employs 1,200 hands, and can, with crowd- 
ing, employ 3,000. Surely it will have place for one 



220 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

more, then! I am impressed with its grandeur as 
it rises, red-bricked, with proud, straight towers 
toward its centre impressed and frightened by its 
insistent call as it rattles and hums to me across the 
one-sixteenth of a mile of arid sand track. At one 
side Christianity and doctrine have constructed a 
church: a second one is building. On the other side, 
at a little distance, lies Granton, second largest mill. 
All this I take in as I make my way Excelsiorward. 
Between me and the vast mill itself there is not a 
soul. A thick, sandy road winds to the right ; in the 
distance I can see a black trestle over which the 
freight cars take the cotton manufactures to the 
distant railroad and ship them to all parts of the 
world. Beyond the trestle are visible the first 
shanties of the mill town. 

Work first and lodgings afterward are my goals. 
At the door of Excelsior I am more than overwhelmed 
by its magnificence and its loud voice that makes 
itself so far-reachingly heard. There is no entry for 
me at the front of the mill, and I toil around to the 
side ; not a creature to be seen. I venture upon the 
landing and make my way along a line of freight cars 
between the track and the mill. 

A kind-faced man wanders out from an un- 
observed doorway ; a gust of roar follows him ! 
He sees me, and lifts his hat with the ready 
Southern courtesy not yet extinct. I hasten to 
ask for work. 



THE SOUTHERN COTTON MILLS 221 

"Well, that's jest plenty of work, I reckon ! Go in 
that do' ; the overseer will tell you." 

Through the door open behind him I catch 
glimpses of a room enormous in dimensions. Cotton 
bales lie on the floor, stand around the walls and are 
piled in the centre. Leaning on them, handling 
them, lying on them, outstretched, or slipping like 
shadows into shadow, are the dusky shapes of the 
black Negro of true Southern blood. I have been 
told there is no Negro labour in the mills. I take 
advantage of my guide's kind face to ask him if he 
knows where I can lodge. 

"Hed the measles? Well, my gyrl got 'em. 
Thar's a powerful sight of measles hyar. I'd take 
you-all to bo'd at my house ef you ain't 'fraid of 
measles. Thar's the hotel." (He points to what at 
the North would be known as a brick shanty.) "A 
gyrl can bo'd thar for $2.25 a week. You won't 
make that at first." 

With extreme kindness he leads me into the roaring 
mill past picturesque black men and cotton bales: 
we reach the "weave-room." I am told that 
carpet factories are celebrated for their uproar, but 
the weave-looms of a cotton mill to those who know 
them need no description ! This is chaos before 
order was conceived : more weird in that, despite the 
din and thunder, everything is so orderly, so per- 
fectly carried forth by the machinery. Here the 
cotton cloth is woven. Excelsior is so vast that from 



222 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

one end to the other of a room one cannot distinguish 
a friend. I decide instantly that the weave-room 
shall not be my destination ! An overseer comes 
up to me. He talks with me politely and kindly 
that is, as well as he can, he talks ! It is 
almost impossible to hear what he says. He asks 
me simple and few questions and engages me 
promptly to work that " evening," as the Southerner 
calls the hours after midday. 

"You can see all the work and choose a sitting 
or a standing job." This is an improvement on 
Pittsburg and Lynn. 

I have been told there is always work in the mills 
for the worker. 

It is not strange that every inducement consistent 
with corporation rules should be made to entice the 
labouring girl ! The difficulty is that no effort is 
made to keep her ! The ease with which, in all these 
experiences, work has been obtained, goes definitely 
to prove that there is a demand everywhere for 
labourers. 

Organize labour, therefore, so well that the work- 
woman who obtains her task may be able to continue it 
and keep her health and her self-respect. 

With Excelsior as my future workshop I leave 
the mill to seek lodging in the mill village. 

The houses built by the corporation for the hands 
are some five or six minutes' walk, not more, from 
the palace-like structure of the mill proper. To reach 



THE SOUTHERN COTTON MILLS 223 

them I plod through a roadway ankle-deep in red 
clay dust. The sun is bright and the air heavy, 
lifeless and dull; the scene before me is desolate, 
meager and poverty-stricken in the extreme. 

The mill houses are all built exactly alike. Painted 
in sickly greens and yellows, they rise on stilt-like 
elevations above the malarial soil. Here the 
architect has catered to the different families, 
different individual tastes in one point of view alone, 
regarding the number of rooms: They are known as 
"four- or six-room cottages." In one of the first 
cottages to the right a wholesome sight the single 
wholesome sight I see during my experience meets 
my eye. Human kindness has transformed one of 
the houses into a kindergarten " Kindergarten" 
is over the door. A pretty Southern girl, a lady, 
stands surrounded by her little flock. The handful 
of half a dozen emancipated children who are not in 
the mills is refreshing to see. There are very few ; 
the kindergarten flags for lack of little scholars. 

I accost her. " Can you tell me any decent place 
to board ? " She is sorry, regards me kindly with the 
expression I have grown to know the look the eyes 
adopt when a person of one class addresses her 
sister in a lower range. 

" I am a stranger come out to work in the mills." 

But the young lady takes little interest in me. 
Children are her care. They surround her, clinging, 
laughing, calling little birds fed so gently by the 



224 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

womanly hand. She turns from the working- 
woman to them, but not before indicating a shanty 
opposite : 

"Mrs. Green lives there in that four-room 
cottage. She is a good woman." 

Through the door's crack I interview Mrs. Green, 
a pallid, sickly creature, gowned, as are most of the 
women, in a calico garment made all in one piece. 
She permits me to enter the room which forms (as 
do all the front rooms in a mill cottage) bedroom 
and general living-room. 

Here is confusion incarnate and filthy disorder. 
The tumbled, dirty bed fills up one-half the room. 
In it is a little child, shaking with chills. On the 
bare floor are bits of food, old vegetables, rags, dirty 
utensils of all sorts of domestic description. The 
house has a sickening odour. The woman tells me 
she is too ill to keep tidy too ill to keep boarders. 
We do not strike a bargain. " I am only here four 
months," she said. "Sick ever since I come, and 
my little girl has fevernaygu." 

I wander forth and a child directs me to a six- 
room cottage, "a real bo'din'-house." I attack it 
and thus discover the dwelling where I make my 
home in Excelsior. 

From the front room of this dwelling a kitchen 
opens. Within its shadow I see a Negro washing 
dishes. A tall woman, taller than most men, 
angular, white-haired, her face seared by toil and 



THE SOUTHERN COTTON MILLS 225 

stricken with age, greets me: she is the landlady. 
At her skirts, catching them and staring at a stranger, 
wanders a very young child a blue-eyed, clean 
little being; a great relief, in point of fact, to the 
general filth hitherto presented me. The room 
beyond me is clean. I draw a breath of gratitude. 

"Mrs. Jones?" 

"Yes, this is Jones' bo'dm'-house." 

The old woman has a comb in her hand; she 
has "jest ben com'in' Letty's hair." Letty smiles 
delightedly. 

"This yere's the child of the lady upstairs. The 
mother's a pore sick thing." Mrs. Jones bends 
the stiffness of sixty-eight years over the stranger's 
child. "And grandmaw keeps Letty clean, don't 
she, Letty ? She don't never whip her, neither; jest 
a little cross to her." 

"Can I find lodging here?" 

She looks at me. "Yes, ma'am, you kin. I'm 
full up; got a lot of gentlemen bo'ders, but not many 
ladies. I got one bed up aloft; you can't have it 
alone neither, and the baby's mother is sick up there, 
too. Nuthin' ketchin'. She come here a stranger; 
the mill was too hard on her ; she's ben sick fo' days." 

I had made a quick decision and accepted half a 
bed. I would return at noon. 

"Stranger hyar, I reckon?" 

"Yes; from Massachusetts. A shoe-hand." 

She shakes her head: "You wont like the mills." 



226 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

She draws Letty between her old stiff knees, seats 
herself on a straight chair, and combs the child's 
hair on either side its pathetic, gentle little face. 
So I leave her for the present to return to Columbia 
and fetch back with me my bundle of clothes. 

When I return at noon it is dinner time. I enter 
and am introduced, with positive grace and courtesy, 
by my dear old landlady to her son-in-law, "Tommy 
Jones," a widower, a man in decent store clothes 
and a Derby hat surrounded by a majestic crape 
sash. He is nonchalantly loading a large revolver, 
and thrusts it in his trousers pocket: "Always 
carry it," he explains; "comes handy!" Then I 
am presented to the gentlemen boarders. I beg to 
go upstairs, with my bundles, and I see for the first 
time my dwelling part of this shanty. 

A ladderlike stair leading directly from the kitchen 
takes me into the loft. Heavens ! the sight of that 
sleeping apartment ! There are three beds in it, 
sagging beds, covered by calico comforters. The 
floor is bare ; the walls 'are bare. I have grown to 
know that "Jones' " is the cleanliest place in the 
Excelsior village, and yet to our thinking it lacks 
perfection. Around the bare walls hang the gar- 
ments of the other women who share the room with 
me. What humble and pathetic decorations ! poor, 
miserable clothes a shawl or two, a coat or two, a 
cotton wrapper, a hat ; and on one nail the miniature 



THE SOUTHERN COTTON MILLS 227 

clothes of Letty a little night-dress and a tiny blue 
cotton dress. I put my bundle down by the side 
of my bed which I am to share with another woman, 
and descend, for Mrs. Jones* voice summons me 
to the midday meal. 

The nourishment provided for these thirteen-hour- 
a-day labourers is as follows: On a tin saucepan 
there was a little salt pork and on another dish a pile 
of grease-swimming spinach. A ragged Negro 
hovered over these articles of diet; the room was 
full of the smell of frying. After the excitement 
of my search for work, and the success, if success it 
can be called that so far had met me, I could not eat ; 
I did not even sit down. I made my excuse. I 
said that I had had something to eat in Columbia, 
and started out to the mill. 

By the time the mill-hand has reached his home a 
good fifteen minutes out of the three-quarters of an 
hour recreation is gone: his food is quickly bolted, 
and by the time I have reached the little brick 
hotel pointed out to me that morning and descended 
to its cellar restaurant, forced myself to drink a cup 
of sassafras tea, and mounted again into the air, the 
troop of workers is on the march millward. I join 
them. 

Although the student of philanthropy and the 
statistician would find difficulty in forcing the 
countersign of the manufactories, the worker may 
go everywhere. 



228 . THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

I do not see my friend of the morning, the over- 
seer, in the "weave-room" ; indeed, there is no one to 
direct me ; but I discover, after climbing the stairs, a 
room of flying spools and more subdued machinery, 
and it appears that tlie spool-room is this man's 
especial charge. He consigns to me a standing 
job. A set of revolving spools is designated, and 
he secures a pretty young girl of about sixteen, 
who comes cheerfully forward and consents to 
"learn" me. 

Spooling is not disagreeable, and the room is the 
quietest part of the mill noisy enough, but calm 
compared to the others. In Excelsior this room is, of 
course, enormous, light and well ventilated, although 
the temperature, on account of some quality of the 
yarn, is kept at a point of humidity far from whole- 
some. 

"Spooling" is hard on the left arm and the side. 
Heart disease is a frequent complaint amongst the 
older spoolers. It is not dirty compared to shoe- 
making, and whereas one stands to " spool," when 
one is not waiting for yarn it is constant move- 
ment up and down the line. The fact that there are 
more children than young girls, more young girls 
than women, proves the simplicity of this task. 
The cotton comes from the spinning-room to the 
spool-room, and as the girl stands before her "side," 
as it is called, she sees on a raised ledge, whirling in 
rapid vibration, some one hundred huge spools full 






THE SOUTHERN COTTON MILLS 229 

of yarn ; whilst below her, each in its little case, lies a 
second bobbin of yarn wound like a distaff. 

Her task controls machinery in constant motion, 
that never stops except in case of accident. 

With one ringer of her right hand she detaches 
the yarn from the distaff that lies inert in the 
little iron rut before her. With her left hand she 
seizes the revolving circle of the large spool's top in 
front of her, holding this spool steady, overcoming 
the machinery for the moment not as strong as her 
grasp. This demands a certain effort. Still con- 
trolling the agitated spool with her left hand, she 
detaches the end of yarn with the same hand from 
the spool, and by means of a patent knotter harnessed 
around her palm she joins together the two loosened 
ends, one from the little distaff and one from this 
large spool, so that the two objects are set whirling 
in unison and the spool receives all the yarn from 
the distaff. Up and down this line the spooler must 
walk all day long, replenishing the iron grooves with 
fresh yarn and reknitting broken strands. This is all 
that there is of "spooling." It demands alertness, 
quickness and a certain amount of strength from the 
left arm, and that is all ! To conceive of a woman of 
intelligence pursuing this task from the age of eight 
years to twenty-two on down through incredible 
hours is not salutary. You will say to me, that if 
she demands nothing more she is fit for nothing 
more. I cannot think it. 



2 30 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

The little girl who teaches me spooling is fresh and 
cheerful and jolly; I grant her all this. She lives at 
home. I am told by my subsequent friends that she 
thinks herself better than anybody. This pride and 
ambition has at least elevated her to neat clothes and 
a sprightliness of manner that is refreshing. She 
does not hesitate to evince her superiority by making 
sport of me. She takes no pains to teach me well. 
Instead of giving me the patent knotter, which would 
have simplified my job enormously, she teaches me 
what she expresses "the old-fashioned way" knot- 
ting the yarn with the fingers. I have mastered this 
slow process by the time that the overseer discovers 
her trick and brings me the harness for my left hand. 
She is full of curiosity about me, asking me every 
sort of question, to which I give the best answers 
that I can. By and by she slips away from me. I 
turn to find her ; she has vanished, leaving me under 
the care of a truly kind, sad little creature in a 
wrapper dress. This little Maggie has a heart of gold. 

"Don't you-all fret," she consoles. "That's like 
Jeannie: she's so mean. When you git to be a 
remarkable fine spooler she'll want you on her side, 
you bet." 

She assists my awkwardness gently. 

"I'll learn you all right. You-all kin stan* hyar 
by me all day. Jeannie clean fergits she was a 
greenhorn herself onct; we all wuz. Whar you 
come from?'* 



THE SOUTHERN COTTON MILLS 231 

"Lynn, Massachusetts." 

"Did you-all git worried with the train? I only 
bin onto it onct, and it worried me for days !" 

She tells me her simple annals with no question : 

"My paw he married ag'in, and me stepmother 
peard like she didn't care for me; so one day I sez 
to paw, 'I'm goin' to work in the mills' an' I lef 
home all alone and come here." After a little 
"When I sayd good-by to my father peard like he 
didn't care neither. I'm all alone here. I bo'ds 
with that girl's mother." 

I wore that day in the mill a blue-checked apron. 
So did Maggie, but mine was from Wanamaker's in 
New York, and had, I suppose, a certain style, for 
the child said: 

"I suttenly dew think that yere's a awful pretty 
apron: where' d you git it?" 

"Where I came from," I answered, and, I am sorry 
to say, it sounded brusque. For the little thing 
blushed, fearful lest she had been indiscreet. . . . 
(Oh, I assure you the qualities of good breeding are 
there! Some of my factory and mill friends can 
teach the set in which I move lessons salutary ! ) 

"I didn't mean jest 'xactly wherebouts," she 
murmurs; " I only meant it warn't from these 
parts." 

During the afternoon the gay Jeannie returns and 
presents to me a tin box. It is filled with a black 



THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

powder. "Want some?" Well, what is it? She 
greets my ignorance with shrieks of laughter. In 
a trice half a dozen girls have left their spooling 
and cluster around me. 

"She ain't never seen it ! " and the little creature 
fills her mouth with the powder which she keeps 
under her tongue. "It is snuff! " 

They all take it, old and young, even the small- 
est children. Their mouths are brown with it; 
their teeth are black with it. They take it 
and smell it and carry it about under their 
tongues all day in a black wad, spitting it all 
over the floor. Others "dip," going about with 
the long sticks in their mouths. The air of the room 
is white with cotton, although the spool-room is 
perhaps the freest . These little particles are breathed 
into the nose, drawn into the lungs. Lung disease 
and pneumonia consumption are the constant, 
never-absent scourge of the mill village. The girls 
expectorate to such an extent that the floor is 
nauseous with it; the little girls practise spitting 
and are adepts at it. 

Over there is a woman of sixty, spooling ; behind 
the next side is a child, not younger than eight, 
possibly, but so small that she has to stand on a 
box to reach her side. Only the very young girls 
show any trace of buoyancy; the older ones have 
accepted with more or less complaint the limitation 
of their horizons. They are drawn from the hill 



THE SOUTHERN COTTON MILLS 233 

district with traditions no better than the loneliness, 
desertion and inexperience of the fever-stricken 
mountains back of them. They are illiterate, 
degraded ; the mill has been their widest experience ; 
and all their tutelage is the intercourse of girl to girl 
during the day and in the evenings the few moments 
before they go to bed in the mill-houses, where they 
either live at home with parents and brothers all 
working like themselves, or else they are fugitive 
lodgers in a boarding-house or a hotel, where their 
morals are in jeopardy constantly. As soon as a 
girl passes the age, let us say of seventeen or eighteen, 
there is no hesitation in her reply when you ask her : 
"Do you like the mills?" Without exception the 
answer is, "I hate them. 1 ' 

Absorbed with the novelty of learning my trade, 
the time goes swiftly. Yet even the interest and 
excitement does not prevent fatigue, and from 
12 145 to 6:45 seems interminable ! Even when the 
whistle blows we are not all free Excelsior is 
behindhand with her production, and those whom 
extra pay can beguile stay on. Maggie, my little 
teacher, walks with me toward our divided destina- 
tions, her quasi-home and mine. 

Neither in the mill nor the shoe-shops did I take 
precaution to change my way of speaking and not 
once had it been commented upon. To-day Maggie 
says to me : 

"I reckon you-all is Tiscopal?" 



234 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

"Why?" 

"Why, you-all talks 'Piscopal." 

So much for a tribute to the culture of the church. 

At Jones' supper is ready, spread on a bare 
board running the length of the room a bare board 
supported by saw-horses ; the seats are boards again, 
a little lower in height. They sag in the middle 
threateningly. One plate is piled high with fish- 
bones, skin and flesh all together in one odourous 
mass. Salt pork graces another platter and hominy 
another. I am alone in the supper room. The 
guests, landlord and landlady are all absent. Some 
one, as he rushes by me, gives me the reason for the 
desertion : 

"They've all gone to see the fight; all the white 
fellers is after a nigger." 

Through the window I can see the fleeing forms of 
the settlers women, sunbonnets in hand, the men 
hatless. It appears that all the world has turned 
out to see what lawless excitement may be in store. 
The whirling dust and sand in the distance denote 
the group formed by the Negro and his pursuers. 
This, standing on the little porch of my lodging- 
house, I see and am glad to find that the chase is 
fruitless. The black man, tortured to distraction, 
dared at length to rebel, and from the moment that 
he showed spirit his life was not worth a farthing, 
but his legs were, and he got clear of Excelsior, The 



THE SOUTHERN COTTON MILLS 235 

lodgers troop back. Molly, my landlady's niece, 
breathing and panting, disheveled, leads the proces- 
sion and is voluble over the affair. 

"They-all pester a po'r nigger's life out 'er him, 
ye'es, they dew so ! Ef a nigger wants ter show his 
manners to me, why, I show mine to him," she said 
generously, "and ef he's a mannerly nigger, why, I 
ain't got nothin' ag'in him; no, sir, I suttenly ain't ! " 

It is difficult to conceive how broad and philan- 
thropic, how generous and unusual this poor mill 
girl's standpoint is contrasted with the sentiment 
of the people with which she moves. 

I slip into my seat at the table in the centre of 
the sagging board and find Molly beside me, the girl 
from Excelsior with the pretty hair on the other side. 
The host, Mr. Jones, honours the head of the 
table, and "grandmaw" waits upon us. Opposite 
are the three men operatives, flannel-shirted and 
dirty. The men are silent for the most part, and 
bend over their food, devouring the unpalatable stuff 
before them. I feel convinced that if they were not 
so terribly hungry they could not eat it. Jones 
discourses affably on the mill question, advising 
me to learn "speeding," as it pays better and is the 
only advanced work in the mill. 

Molly, my elbow-companion, seems to take up 
the whole broad seat, she is so big and so pervading; 
and her close proximity unwashed, heavy with 
perspiration as she is, is not conducive to appetite. 



236 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

She is full of news and chatter and becomes the 
leading spirit of the meal. 

" I reckon you-all never did see anything like the 
fight to the mill to-day." 

She arouses at once the interest of even the dull 
men opposite, who pause, in the applying of their 
knives and forks, to hear. 

"Amanda Wilcox she dun tol* Ida Jacobs that 
she'd do her at noon, and Ida she sarst her back. 
It was all about a sport * Bill James. He's been 
spo'tin' Ida Jacobs these three weeks, I reckon, 
and Amanda got crazy over it and 'clared she'd 
spile her game. And she tol' Ida Jacobs a lie 
about Bill sayd he* been spo'tin' her down to the 
Park on Sunday. 

;< Well, sir, the whole spinnin'-room was out to 
see what they-all'd do at noon, and they jest resh'd 
for each other like's they was crazy; and one man 
he got between 'em and sayd, ' Now the gyrl what 
spits over my hand first can begin the fight.' 

"They both them spit right into each other's 
faces, they did so; and arter that yer couldn't get 
them apart. Ida Jacobs grabbed Amanda by the 
ha'r and Amanda hit her plump in the chest with 
her fist. They was suttenly like to kill each other 
ef the men hadn't just parted them; it took three 
men to part 'em." 

Her story was much appreciated, 

*A beau. 



THE SOUTHERN COTTON MILLS 237 

" Ida was dun fer, I can tell ye; she suttenly was. 
She can't git back to work fer days." 

The spinning-room is the toughest room in the 
mill. 

After supper the men went out on the porch with 
their pipes and we to the sitting-room, where Molly, 
the story-teller, seated herself in a comfortable chair, 
her feet outstretched before her. She made a lap, a 
generous lap, to which she tried to beguile the baby, 
Letty. Mrs. White had disappeared. 

" You-all come here to me, Letty." She held out 
her large dirty hands to the blue-eyed waif. In its 
blue-checked apron, the remains of fish and ham 
around its mouth, its large blue eyes wandering 
from face to face in search of the pale mother who 
had for a time left her, Letty stood for a moment 
motionless and on the verge of tears. 

"You-all come to Molly and go By-O." 

There was some magic in that word that at long 
past eight charmed the eighteen-months'-old baby. 
She toddled across the floor to the mill-girl, who 
lifted her tenderly into her ample lap. The big, 
awkward girl, scarcely more than a child herself, 
uncouth, untutored, suddenly gained a dignity and 
a grace maternal not too much to say it, she had 
charm. 

Letty leaned her head against Molly 's breast and 
smiled contentedly, whilst the mill-girl rocked softly 
to and fro. 



238 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

"Shall Molly sing By-O?" 

She should. The little face, lifted, declared its 
request. 

"Letty must sing, too," murmured the young 
girl. " Sing By-O ! We'll all sing it together." 

Letty covered her eyes with one hand to feign 
sleep and sang her two words sweetly, "By-O! 
By-O ! " and Molly joined her. Thus they rocked 
and hummed, a picture infinitely touching to see. 

One of these two would soon be an unclaimed 
foundling when the unknown woman had faded out 
of existence. The other who can say how to her 
maternity would come ! 

In the room where we sit Jones' wife died a 
few weeks before, victim to pneumonia that all 
winter has scourged the town "the ketchin' kind" 
that is the way it has been caught, and fatally by 
many.* 

In one corner stands a sewing machine, in another 
an organ luxuries: in these cases, objects of art. 
They are bought on the installment plan, and some 
of these girls pay as high as $100 for the organ in 
monthly payments of $4 at a time. The mill-girl is 
too busy to use the machine and too ignorant to play 
the organ. 

Jones is a courteous host. His lodgers occupy 

*There are no statistics, they tell me, kept of births, marriages 
or deaths in this State; it is less surprising that the mill village 
has none. 






THE SOUTHERN COTTON MILLS 239 

the comfortable seats, whilst he perches himself on 
the edge of a straight high-backed chair and con- 
verses with us, not lighting his pipe until urged, 
then deprecatingly smoking in little smothered puffs. 
I feel convinced that Jones thinks that Massa- 
chusetts shoe-hands are a grade higher in the social 
scale than South Carolina mill-girls ! Because, 
after being witness more than once to my morning 
and evening ablutions on the back steps, he said : 

" Now, I am goin' to dew the right thing by you-all ; 
I'm goin' to fix up a wash-stand in that there loft." 
This is a triumph over the lax, uncleanly shif tlessness 
of the Southern settlement. Again: 

" You-all must of had good food whar you come 
from: your skin shows it; 'tain't much like hyar- 
'bouts. Why, I'd know a mill-hand anywhere, if I 
met her at the North Pole salla, pale, sickly." 

I might have added for him, deathlike, . . . 
skeleton, . . . doomed. But I listen, rocking 
in the best chair, whilst Mrs. White glides in from 
the kitchen and, unobserved, takes her place on a 
little low chair by the sewing machine behind Jones. 
Her baby rocks contentedly in Molly's arms. 

Jones continues : "I worked in the mill fifteen 
years. I have done a little of all jobs, I reckon, and 
I ain't got no use for mill-work. If they'd pay me 
fifty cents a side to run the * speeders' I'd go in f er 
an hour or two now and then. Why, I sell sewing 
machines and organs to the mill-hands all over the 



240 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

country. I make $60 a month, and I touch all my 
money" he said significantly. " It's the way to do. 
A man don't feel no dignity unless he does handle 
his own money, if it's ten cents or ten dollars." He 
then explains the corporation's methods of paying 
its slaves. Some of the hands never touch their 
money from month's end to month's end. Once in 
two weeks is pay-day. A woman has then worked 
122 hours. The corporation furnishes her house. 
There is the rent to be paid; there are also the 
corporation stores from which she has been getting 
her food and coal and what gewgaws the cheap 
stuff on sale may tempt her to purchase. There is a 
book of coupons issued by the mill owners which are 
as good as gold. It is good at the stores, good for 
the rent, and her time is served out in pay for this 
representative currency. This is of course not 
obligatory, but many of the operatives avail them- 
selves or bind themselves by it. When the people 
are ill, Jones says, they are docked for wages. 
When, for indisposition or fatigue, they knock a day 
off, there is a man, hired especially for this purpose, 
who rides from house to house to find out what is the 
matter with them, to urge them to rise, and if they 
are not literally too sick to move, they are hounded 
out of their beds and back to their looms. 

Jones himself, mark you, is emancipated ! He 
has set himself free; but he is still a too-evident 
although a very innocent partisan of the corporation. 




THE SOUTHERN MILL HAND S FACE IS UNIQUE, A FEARFUL TYPE 



THE SOUTHERN COTTON MILLS 241 

" I think," he says, "that the mill-hand is meaner 
to the corporation than the corporation is to the 
mill-hand." 

"Why?" 

"Why, they would strike for shorter hours and 
better pay." 

Unconsciously with one word he condemns his 
own cause. 

" What's the use of these hyar mill-hands tryin* to 
fight corporations? Why, Excelsior is the biggest 
mill under one roof in the world ; its capital is over a 
million; it has 24,500 spindles. The men that run 
these mills have got all their stuff paid for; they've 
got piles of money. What do they care for a few 
penniless lot of strikers ? They can shut down and 
not feel it. Why, these hyar people might just as 
well fight against a stone wall." 

The wages of these people, remember, pay 
Jones for the organs upon which they cannot play 
and the machines which they cannot use. His home 
is a mill corporation house ; he makes a neat sum by 
lodging the hands. He has fetched down from the 
hills Molly, his own niece, to work for him. He 
perforce will speak well. I do not blame him. 

He is by all means the most respectable-looking 
member of the colony. He wears store clothes ; he 
dresses neatly ; he is shaven, brushed and washed. 

" Don't you let the mill hands discourage you with 
lies about the mill. Any of 'em would be jealous of 



242 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

you-all." Then he warns, again forced to plead for 
another side: "You-all won't come out as you go 
in, I tell you ! You're the picture of health. Why, ' ' 
he continues, a little later, "you ain't got no idea 
how light-minded the mill-girl is. Why, in the sum- 
mer time she'll trolley four or five miles to a dance- 
hall theyVe got down to and dance there 

till four o'clock come home just in time to get into 
the mills at 5:45." Which fact convinces me of 
nothing but that the women are still, despite their 
condition and their white slavery, human beings, 
and many of them are young human beings (Thank 
God, for it is a prophecy for their future !) not yet 
crushed to ike dumb endurance of beasts. 

Rather early I bid them all good-night and climb 
the attic stairs to my loft. There the three beds 
arrayed in soggy striped comforters greet me. Old 
boots and downtrodden shoes are thrown into the 
corners and the lines of clothing already describe 
fantastic shapes in the dark, suggesting pendant 
sinister figures. Windows are large, thank Heaven ! 
In the mill district the air is heavy, singularly 
lifeless ; the night is warm and stifling. 

Close to an old trunk I sit down with a slip of paper 
on my knee and try to take a few notes. But no 
sooner have I begun to write than a step on the stair 
below announces another comer. Before annoyance 
can deepen too profoundly the big, awkward form of 
the landlady's niece slouches into sight. Sheepishly 



THE SOUTHERN COTTON MILLS 243 

she comes across the room to me sits down on the 
nearest bed. Molly's costume is typical: a dark 
cotton wrapper whose colours have become indistinct 
in the stains of machinery oil and perspiration. The 
mill girl boasts no coquetry of any kind around her 
neck and waist, but her headdress is a tribute to 
feminine vanity ! Compactly screwed curl papers, 
dozens of them, accentuate the hard, unlovely lines 
of her face and brow. Her features are coarse, 
heavy and square, but her eyes are clear, frank and 
kind. She has an appealing, friendly expression; 
Molly is a distinctly whole-souled, nice creature. 
One elbow sinks in the bed and she cradles her 
crimped head in her large, dirty hand. 

" My, ef I could write as fast as you-all I'd write 
some letters, I reckon. Ust ter write; like it good 
enough, tew; but I ain't wrote in months. I was 
thinkin' th' other day ef I didn't take out the 
pencile I'd dun forgit how to spell." 

Without the window through which she gazes is 
seen the pale night sky and in the heavens hangs the 
thread of a moon. Its light is unavailing alongside 
of the artificial moon an enormous electric light. 
This lifts its brilliant, dazzling circumference high in 
the centre of the mill street. I have but to move a 
trifle aside from the window coping's shelter to 
receive a blinding blaze. But Molly has been 
subtle enough to discover the natural beauty of the 
night. She sees, curiously enough, past this modern 



244 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

illumination: the young moon has charm for her. 
" Ain't it a pretty night ?" she asks me. Its beauty 
has not much chance to enhance this room and the 
crude forms, but it has awakened something akin to 
sentiment in the breast of this young savage. 

" I don't guess ever any one gets tired of hearing 
sweet music* does you-all?" 

"What is the nicest music you have ever heard, 
Molly?" 

4 'Why, a gui-taar an' a mandolin. It's so sweet ! 
I could sit for hours an' hyar 'em pick." Her curl- 
paper head wags in enthusiasm. 

" Up to the hills, from whar I cum, I ust ter hyar 
'em a serenadin' of some gyrl an* I ust ter set up in 
bed and lis'en tel it died out; it warn't for me, tho' !" 

"Didn't they ever serenade you?" 

" No, ma'am', I don't pay no 'tention to spo'tin*. " 

Without, the moon's slender thread holds in a 
silvery circle the half -defined misty ball that shall 
soon be full moon. Thank heavens I shall not see 
this golden globe form, wane, decline in this town, 
forgotten of gods and men ! But the woman at my 
side must see it mark its seasons ; she is inscrutably 
part of the colony devoted to unending toil ! Here 
all she has brought of strong youth shall fade and 
perish; womanly sentiment be crushed; die out in 
sterility ; or worse, coarsen to the animal like to those 
whose companion she is forced to be. 

*The Southern term for stringed instruments. 



THE SOUTHERN COTTON MILLS 245 

" I live to the Rockies, an* Uncle Tom he come up 
after me and carried me down hyar. My auntie died 
two weeks ago in the livin'-room; she had catchin' 
pneumonia. I tuk care of her all through her 
sickness, did every mite for her, and there was 
bo'ders, tew I guess half a dozen of 'em and I 
cooked and washed and everything for 'em all. When 
she died I went to work in the mill. Say, I reckon 
you-all didn't see my new hat?" It was fetched, 
done up with care in paper. She displayed it, a 
white straw round hat, covered with roses. At 
praise of it and admiration the girl flushed with 
pleasure. 

"My, you dew like it? Why, I didn't think it 
pretty, much. Uncle Tom dun buy it for me." 

She gives all her wages to Uncle Tom, who in turn 
brings her from time to time such stimulus to labour 
as some pretty feminine thing like this. This shall 
crown Molly's hair freed from the crimpers when the 
one day of the week, Sunday, comes ! Not from 
Sunday till Sunday again are those hair crimpers 
unloosed. 

Despite Uncle Tom's opposition to mill work for 
women, despite his cognizance of the unhealthfulness 
of the mills, he knew a thing or two when he put his 
strapping innocent niece to work thirteen hours a 
day and pocketed himself the spoils. 

"I can't go to bade awful early, because I don't 
sleep ef I do; I'm too tired to sleep. When I feel 



246 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

real sick I tries to stay home a day, and then the 
overseer he rides around and worries me to git up. I 
declare ef I wouldn't near as soon git up as to be 
roused up. They don't give you no peace, rousing 
you out of bed when you can scarcely stand. I 
suttenly dew feel bade to-night; I suttenly can't 
scarcely get to bed !" 

Here into our discourse, mounting the stairs, comes 
the pale mother and her little child. This ghost 
of a woman, wedding-ringless, who called herself 
Mrs. White, could scarcely crawl to her bed. She 
was whiter than the moon and as slender. Molly's 
bed is close to mine. The night toilet of this girl 
consisted of her divesting herself of her shoes, 
stockings and her cotton wrapper, then in all the 
other garments she wore during the day she turned 
herself into bed, night gownless, unwashed. 

Mrs. White undressed her child, giving it very 
good care. It was a tiny creature, small-boned 
and meager. Every time I looked over at it it 
smiled appealingly, touchingly. Finally when she 
went downstairs to the pump to get a drink 
of water for it, I went over and in her absence 
stroked the little hand and arm: such a small hand 
and such an infinitesimal arm ! Unused to attention 
and the touch, but not in the least frightened, Letty 
extended her miniature member a,nd looked up at 
me in marvel. Mrs. White on her return made 
herself ready for the night. She said in her frail 



THE SOUTHERN COTTON MILLS 247 

voice: "Letty'sa powerful hand for vegetubbles, 
and she eats everything." 

Memory of the ham and the putrid fish I had seen 
this eighteen-months-old child devour not an hour 
ago came to my mind. 

Mrs. White let down her hair a nonchalance that 
Molly had not been guilty of. This woman's hair 
was no more than a wisp. It stood out thin, wiry, 
almost invisible in the semilight. This was the 
extent of her toilet. She slipped out of her shoes, 
but she did not even take off her dress. Then she 
turned in by her child. She was very ill ; it was plain 
to be seen. Death was fast upon this woman's 
track; it should clutch her inevitably within the next 
few weeks at most, if that emaciated body had 
resistance for so long. Her languor was slow and 
indicative, her gray, ashen face like death itself. 

"Lie still, Letty," she whispers to the baby; 
" don't touch mother she can't stand it to-night." 

My mattress was straw and billowy, the bed 
sheetless, and under the weight of the cotton com- 
forter I tried to compose myself. There were five 
of us in the little loft. My bedfellow was peaceful 
and lay still, too tired to do anything else. In front 
of me was the open window, through which shone 
the electric light, blatant and insistent; behind this, 
the clock of Excelsior brightly lit and incandescent 
glared in upon us, giant hands going round, seem- 
ing to threaten the hour of dawn and frightening 



248 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

sleep and mocking, bugbearing the short hours 
which the working- worn an might claim for repose. 

It was well on to nine o 'clock and the mills were 
working overtime. Molly turned restlessly on her 
bed and murmured, "I suttenly dew feel bad 
to-night." A little later I heard her say over to 
herself: " My, I forgot to say my prayers." She was 
the sole member of the loft to whom sleep came ; it 
came to her soon. I lay sleepless, watching the 
clock of Excelsior. The ladder staircase openly led 
to the kitchen: there was no door, no privacy 
possible to our quarters, and the house was full 
of men. 

A little later Letty cries: "A drink, a drink!" 
and the tone of the mother, who replies, is full of 
patience, but fuller still of suffering. 

" Hush, Letty, hush ! Mother's too sick to get 
it." But the child continues to fret and plead. 
Finally with a groan Mrs. White stretches out her 
hand and gets the tin mug of water, of that vile and 
dirty water which has brought death to so many in 
the mill village. The child drinks it greedily. I 
can hear it suck the fluid. Then the woman herself 
staggers to her feet, rises with dreadful illness upon 
her, and all through the hot stuffy night in the close 
air of the loft growing momentarily more fetid, 
unwholesome, intolerable she rises to be violently 
sick over and over again. It seems an indefinite 
number of times to one who lies awake listening, 






THE SOUTHERN COTTON MILLS 249 

and must seem unceasing to the poor wretch who 
returns to her bed only to rise again. 

She groans and suffers and bites her exclamations 
short. Twice she goes to the window and by the 
light of the electric lamp pours laudanum into a 
glass and takes it to still her pain and her need. 

The odours become so nauseous that I am fain to 
cover my face and head. The child fed on salt ham 
and pork is restless and thirsty all night and begs for 
water at short intervals. At last the demand is too 
much for the poor agonized mother she takes 
refuge in silencing unworthy, and to which one feels 
her gentleness must be forced. " Hark ! The cat will 
get you, Letty ! See that cat?" And the feline 
horror in nameless form, evoked in an awe-inspiring 
whisper, controls the little creature, who murmurs, 
sobs and subsides. 

What spirit deeper than her character has hitherto 
displayed stirs the mill-girl in the bed next to me? 
Possibly the tragedy in the other bed ; possibly the 
tragedy of her own youth. At all events, whatever 
burden is on her, her cross is heavy ! She murmurs 
in her dreams, in a voice more mature, more serious 
than any tone of hers has indicated : 

"Oh, my God!" 

It is a strange cry call appeal. It rings solemn 
to me as I lie and watch and pity. Hours of night 
which should be to the labourer peaceful, full of 
repose after the day, drag along from nine o'clock, 



THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 



when we went to bed, till three. At three Mrs. 
White falls into a doze. I envy her. Over me the 
vermin have run riot ; I have killed them on my neck 
and my arms. When it seemed that flesh and blood 
must succumb, and sleep, through sheer pity, take 
hold of us, a stirring begins in the kitchen below 
which in its proximity seems a part of the very 
room we occupy. The landlady, Mrs. Jones, has 
arisen ; she is making her fire. At a quarter to four 
Mrs. Jones begins her frying ; at four a deep, blue, 
ugly smoke has ascended the stairway to us. This 
smoke is thick with odours the odour of bad grease 
and bad meat. Its cloud conceals the beds from me 
and I can scarcely pierce its curtain to look through 
the window. It settles down over the beds like a 
creature; it insinuates itself into the clothes that 
hang upon the wall. So permeating is it that the 
odour of fried food clings to everything I wear and 
haunts me all day. I can hear the sputtering of 
the saucepan and the fall and flap of the pieces of 
meat as she drops them in to fry. / know what they 
are, for I have seen them the night before great 
crimson bits of flesh torn to pieces and arranged 
in rows by the fingers of a ragged Negro as he 
crouched by the kitchen table. 

This preparation continues for an hour: it takes 
an abnormally long time to cook abnormally bad 
food ! Long before five the clock of Excelsior rings 
and the cry of the mill is heard waking whomsoever 



THE SOUTHERN COTTON MILLS 251 

might be lucky enough to be asleep. Mrs. Jones 
calls Molly. " Molly!" The girl murmurs and 
turns. "Come, you-all git up; you take so powerful 
long to dress yo'self !" Long to dress ! It is diffi- 
cult to see how that would be possible. She rises 
reluctantly, yawning, sighing; lifts her scarcely 
rested body, puts on her stockings and her shoes and 
the dirty wrapper. Her hair is untouched, her face 
unwashed, but she is ready for the day ! Mrs. White 
has actually fallen asleep, the small roll, her baby, 
curled up close to her back. 

Molly's summons is mine as well. I am a mill- 
hand with her. I rise and repeat my ablutions of 
the evening before. Unhooking the tin basin, 
possessing myself of a bit of soap on the kitchen 
stairs, I wash my face and hands. Although the 
water is dipped from the pail on which a scum has 
formed, still it is so much more cool, refreshing and 
stimulating than anything that has come in contact 
with me for hours that it is a positive pleasure. 



THE MILL 

By this time the morning has found us all, and 
unlovely it seems as regarded from this shanty 
environment. At 4:50 Excelsior has shrieked every 
settler awake. At half -past five we have breakfasted 
and I pass out of the house, one of the half-dozen 
who seek the mill from our doors. 



252 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

We fall in with the slowly moving, straggling file, 
receiving additions from each tenement as we pass. 

Beside me walks a boy of fourteen in brown 
earth-coloured clothes. He is so thin that his 
bones threaten to pierce his vestments. He 
has a slender visage of the frailness I have 
learned to know and distinguish: it represents 
the pure American type of people known as 
"poor white trash," and with whose blood has 
been scarcely any admixture of foreign element. A 
painter would call his fine, sensitive face beautiful: 
it is the face of a martyr. His hat of brown felt 
slouches over bright red hair ; one cuffless hand, lank 
and long, hangs down inert, the other sleeve falls 
loose; he is one-armed. His attitude and gait 
express his defrauded existence. Cotton clings to 
his clothes ; his shoes, nearly falling off his feet, are 
red with clay stains. I greet him; he is shy and 
surprised, but returns the salutation and keeps step 
with me. He is "from the hills," an orphan, per- 
fectly friendless. He boards with a lot of men; 
evidently their companionship has not been any 
solace to him, for, as he is alone this day, I see him 
always alone. 

He works from 5:45 to 6:45, with three-quarters 
of an hour at noon, and has his Saturday afternoons 
and his Sundays free. He is destitute of the quality 
we call joy and has never known comfort. He 
makes fifty cents a day ; he has no education, no way 



THE SOUTHERN COTTON MILLS 253 

of getting an education ; he is almost a man, crippled 
and condemned. At my exclamation when he tells 
me the sum of his wages he looks up at me ; a faint 
likeness to a smile comes about his thin lips: "It 
keeps me in existence!" he says in a slow drawl. He 
used just those words. 

At the different doors of the mill we part. He is 
not unconscious of my fellowship with him, that I 
feel and know. A kindling light has come across his 
face. "Good luck to you!" I bid him, and he lifts 
his head and his bowed shoulders and with some- 
thing like warmth replies, "I hope you-all will have 
good luck, tew." 

As we come into the spooling-room from the hot 
air without the mill seems cold. I go over to a green 
box destined for the refuse of the floors and sit 
down, waiting for work. On this day I am to have my 
own "side" lam a full-fledged spooler. Excelsior 
has gotten us all out of our beds before actual day- 
light, but that does not mean we are to have a 
chance to begin our money-making piece-work job 
at once ! "Thar ain't likely to be no yarn for an hour 
to-day," Maggie tells me. She is no less dirty than 
yesterday, or less smelly, but also she is no less kind. 

"I reckon you-all are goin' to make a remarkable 
spooler," she cheers me on. "You'll get tired out 
at first, but then I gets tired, tew, right along, only 
it ain't the same kind it's not so sharp." Her 
distinction is clever. 



254 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

Across the room at one of the "dra wing-in frames" 
I see the figure of an unusally pretty girl with curly 
dark hair. She bends to her job in front of the 
frame she runs ; it has the effect of tapestry, of that 
work with which women of another oh, of quite 
another class amuse their leisure, with which they 
kill their time. "Drawing-in,"* although a sitting 
job, is considered to be a back-breaker. The girls 
are ambitious at this work; they make good wages. 
They sit close to their frames, bent over, for twelve 
hours out of the day. This girl whom I see across 
the floor of the Excelsior is an object to rest the eyes 
upon; she is a beauty. There is not much beauty 
of any kind or description in sight. Maggie has 
noticed her esthetic effect. "You-all seen that 
girl; she's suttenly prob'ly am peart" 

She is a new hand from a distance. This is her 
first day. What miserable chance has brought her 
here ? If she stays the mill will claim her body and 
soul. The overseer has marked her out ; he hovers 
in the part of the room where she works. She has 
colour and her difference to her pale companions is 
marked. Excelsior will not leave those roses unwith- 
ered. I can foretell the change as yellow unhealth- 
fulness creeps upon her cheeks and the red forever 
goes. There are no red cheeks here, not one. She 
has chosen a sitting-down job thinking it easier. I 
saw her lean back, put her hands around her waist 

*A good drawer-in makes $1.25 a day. 



THE SOUTHERN COTTON MILLS 255 

and rest, or try to, after she has bent four hours 
over her close task. I go over to her. 

"They say it's awful hard on the eyes, but they 
tell me, too, that I'll be a remarkable fine hand." 

I saw her apply for work, and saw, too, the man's 
face as he looked at her when she asked: "Got any 
work?" 

"We've got plenty of work for a good-looking 
woman like you," he said with significance, and took 
pains to place her within his sight. 

The yarn has come in, and I return to my part of 
the mill ; Maggie flies to her spools and leaves me to 
seek my distant place far away from her. I set my 
work in order; whilst my back is turned some girl 
possesses herself of my hand-harness. Mine was a 
new one, and the one she leaves for me is broken. 
This delays, naturally, and the overseer, after prov- 
ing to his satisfaction that I am hampered, gets me a 
new one and I set to work. 

Many of the older hands come without breakfast, 
and a little later tin pails or paper parcels appear. 
These operatives crouch down in a Turkish fashion 
at the machines' sides and take a hasty moutnful 
of their unwholesome, unpleasant-looking food, 
eating with their fingers more like animals than 
human beings. By eight the full steam power is 
on, to judge by the swift turning, the strong resist- 
ance of the spools. Not one of the women near me 
but is degrading to look upon and odourous to 



256 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

approach. These creatures, ill clad, with matted, 
frowsy hair and hands that look as though they had 
never, never been washed, smell like the byre. 
As for the children, I must pass them by in this 
recital. The tiny, tiny children ! The girls are 
profane, contentious, foul-mouthed. There is much 
partisanship and cliqueism; you can tell it by the 
scowls and the low, insulting words as an enemy 
passes. To protect the hair from the flying pieces 
of cotton the more particular women, and often- 
times children as well, wear felt hats pulled down 
well over the eyes. The cotton, indeed, thistledown- 
like, flies without cessation through the air spins 
off from the spools ; it rises and floats, falling on the 
garments and in the hair, entering the nostrils and 
throat and lungs. I repeat, the expectoration, 
the coughing and the throat-cleaning is constant. 
Over there two girls have taken advantage of a 
wait for yarn to go to sleep on the floor; their heads 
are pillowed on each others' shoulders; they rest 
against a cotton bale. Maggie wanders over to me to 
see "how you-all is gettin' on." "Tired ?" "Well, I 
reckon I am. Thank God we get out in a little while 



now." 



One afternoon I went up to the loft to rest a few 
moments before going to the mill. Mrs. White was 
sitting on her bed, a slender figure in the blue-checked 
wrapper she always wore. Her head was close 



THE SOUTHERN COTTON MILLS 257 

the window, her silhouette in the light, pale and 
slender. "I wa'n't sick when I come hyar, but them 
mills ! They's suttinly tew hyard on a woman ! 
Weave-room killed me, I guess. I couldn't hyar at 
all when I come out and scarcely could stan' on ma 
feet when I got home. Tew tyred to eat, tew ; and 
the water hyar is regularly pisen ; hev you-all seen 
it ? It's all colours. Doctor done come to see me ; 
ain't helpin' me any; 'pears like he-all ain't goin' to 
come no mo' !" 

"If you have a husband, why don't you go to him 
and let him care for you?" 

She was silent, turning her wedding-ringless hand 
over and over on her lap: the flies came buzzing in 
around us, and in the near distance Excelsior 
buzzed, the loudest, most insistent creature on this 
part of the earth. 

"Seems like a woman ought to help a man- 
some," she murmured. Downstairs Mrs. Jones 
sums her up in a few words. 

"She-all suttinly ain't no 'Mrs.' in the world ! 
Calls herself 'White.' " (The intonation is not to 
be mistaken.) "Pore thing's dyin' knows it, tew ! 
Come hyar to die, I reckon. She'll die right up thar 
in that baed, tew. Doctor don't come no mo' . Know 
she cayn't pay him nothin'. You-all come hyar 
to grandmaw, Letty !" 

The child around whom the threads of existence 
are weaving fabric more intricate than any woof or 



258 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

warp of the great mills goes confidingly to the old 
woman, who lifts her tenderly into her arms. With 
every word she speaks this aged creature draws her 
own picture. To these types no pen save Tolstoi's 
could do justice. Mine can do no more than display 
them by faithfully transcribing their simple dialect- 
speech. 

"I am sixty-four years old, an' played out. Worked 
too hyard. Worked every day since I was a child, 
and when I wasn't workin' had the fevar. Come from 
the hills las' month. When his wife dyde, the son 
he come an' fetched me cross the river to help him." 

How has she lived so long and so well, with life 
"so hyard on her " ? 

''I loved my husban', yes, ma'am, I regularly loved 
him; reckon no woman didn't ever love a man mo', 
and he loved me, tew, jest ez much. Seems tho' God 
couldn't bayr to see us-all so happy couldn't las' ; 
he dyde." 

Mrs. Jones' figure is a case of bones covered with 
a brown substance you could scarcely call it skin ; 
a weather-beaten, tanned hide ; nothing more. This 
human statue, ever responsive to the eternal mould- 
ing, year after year has been worked upon by the 
titan instrument, Labour: struggle, disease, want. 
But this hill woman has known love. It has trans- 
figured her, illumined her. This poor deformed body 
is a torch only for an immortal flame. I know 
now why it seems good to be near her, why her 



THE SOUTHERN COTTON MILLS 259 

eyes are inspired. ... I rise to leave her and 
she comes forward to me, puts out her hand first, 
then puts both thin, old arms about me and kisses 
me. 

In speaking of the settlement, it borders on the 
humourous to use the word sanitation. In the 
mill district, as far as my observation reached, there 
is none. Refuse not too vile for the public eye is 
thrown into the middle of the streets in front of the 
houses. The general drainage is performed by 
emptying pans and basins and receptacles into the 
backyards, so that as one stands at the back steps 
of one's own door one breathes and respires the 
filth of half a dozen shanties. Decaying vegetables, 
rags, dirt of all kinds are the flowers of these people, 
the decorations of their miserable garden patches. 
To walk through Granton (which the prospectus 
tells us is well drained) is to evoke nausea; to 
inhabit Granton is an ordeal which even necessity 
cannot rob of its severity. 

These settlers, habitants of dwellings built by 
finance solely for the purpose of renting, are 
celebrated for their immorals " a rough, lying, 
bad lot." "Oh, the mill-hands!" . . . Suffi- 
cient, expressive designation. Nevertheless, these 
people, simple, direct and innocent, display quali- 
ties that we have been taught are enviable a 
lack of curiosity, for the most part, in the affairs of 



2 6o THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

others, a warm Southern courtesy, a human 
kindliness. I found these people degraded because 
of their habits and not of their tendencies, which 
statement I can justify; whatever may be their 
natural instincts, born, nurtured in their unlovely 
environment, they have no choice but to fall into 
the usages of poverty and degradation. They have 
seen nothing with which to compare their existences ; 
they have no time, no means to be clean, and no 
stimulus to be decent. 

A job at Granton was no more difficult to secure 
than was ' ' spoolin' ' ' at the other mill. I applied one 
Saturday noon, when Granton was silent and the 
operatives within their doors asleep, for the most 
part, leaving the village as deserted as it is on a 
workday. A like desolation pervades the atmos- 
phere on holiday and day of toil. I was so lucky as 
to meet a shirt-sleeved overseer in the doorway. 
Preceding him were two ill-clad, pale children of nine 
and twelve, armed with a long, mop-like broom with 
which their task was to sweep the cotton from the 
floors cotton that resettled eternally as soon as it 
was brushed away. The superintendent regarded me 
curiously, I thought penetratingly, and for the first 
time in my experience I feared detection. My 
dread was enhanced by the loneliness, the law- 
lessness of the place, the risk and boldness of my 
venture. 

By this I was most thoroughly a mill-girl in 



i 



THE SOUTHERN COTTON MILLS 261 

appearance, at least ; my clothes were white with 
cotton, my hair far from tidy; fatigue and listless- 
ness unassumed were in my attitude. I had not 
heard the Southern dialect for so long not to be 
able to fall into it with little effort. I told him I 
had been a " spooler" and did not like it " wanted 
to spin." He listened silently, regarding me with 
interest and with what I trembled to fear was dis- 
belief. I desperately pushed back my sunbonnet 
and in Southern drawl begged for work. 

"Spinnin'?" he asked. " What do you want to 
spin for?" 

He was a Yankee, his accent sharp and keen. 
How clean and decent and capable he appeared, the 
dark mill back of him; shantytown, vile, dirty, 
downtrodden, beside him ! 

I told him that I was tired of spooling and knew I 
could make more by something else. 

He thrust his hands into his pockets. "To-night 
is Saturday ; alone here ? " 

"Yes." 

"Where you going to stay in Granton?" 

"I don't know yet." 

"Don't learn spinnin'," he said decidedly. "I 
am head of the speedin'-room. I'll give you a job 
in my room on Monday morning." 

My relief was immense. His subsequent questions 
I parried, thanked him, and withdrew to keep secret 
from Excelsior that I had deserted for Granton, 



262 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

Although these mills are within three hundred 
feet of each other, the villagers do not associate. 
The workings of Granton are unknown to Excelsior 
and vice versa. 

The speeding-room in Granton is second only in 
noise to the weave-room. Conversation must be 
entrancing and vital to be pursued here ! The 
speeder has under her care as many machines as her 
skill can control. 

My teacher, Bessie, ran four sides, seventy-six 
speeders on a side, her work being regulated by a 
crank that marked the vibrations. To the lay mind 
the terms of the speeding-room can mean nothing. 
This girl made from $1.30 to $1.50 a day. She 
controlled in all 704 speeders ; these she had to replen- 
ish and keep running, and to clean all the machin- 
ery gear with her own hands ; to oil the steel, even 
to bend and clean under the lower shelf and come 
into contact with the most dangerous parts of the 
mechanism. The girl at the speeder next to me had 
just had her hand mashed to a jelly. The speeder 
watches her ropers run out ; these stand at the top 
and back of the line. The ropers are refilled and 
their ends attached to the flying speeders by a quick 
motion. The yarn from the ropers is wound off on 
to the speeders. When the speeders are full of yarn 
they are detached from the nest of steel in which they 
whirl and are thrown into a hand-car which is pushed 
about the room by the girls themselves. Speeding 



THE SOUTHERN COTTON MILLS 263 

is excessively dirty work and greasy; the oiling and 
cleaning is only fit for a man to do. 

The girl who teaches me has been at her work 
for ten years; she entered the factory at eight. 
She was tall, raw-boned, an expert, deft and 
capable, and, as far as I could judge in our 
acquaintance, thoroughly respectable. 

There are long waits in this department of the 
cotton-spinning life. On tall green stools we sit at 
the end of our sides during the time it takes for one 
well-filled roper to spin itself out ; we talk, or rather 
contrive to make ourselves heard. She has a sweet, 
gentle face ; she is courtesy and kindness itself. 

" What do you think about all day ? " 

"Why, I couldn't even begin to tell all my 
thoughts." 

"Tell me some." 

" Why, I think about books, I reckon. Do you-all 
likereadin'?" 

"Yes." 

"Ain't nuthin' I like so good when I ain't tyrd." 

"Are you often tired?" And this question 
surprises her. She looks up at me and smiles. 
" Why, I'm always tyrd ! I read novels for the most 
part; like to read love stories and about fo'ran 
travel." 

(For one short moment please consider: This 
hemmed-in life, this limited existence, encompassed 
on all sides by the warfare and battle and din of 



264 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

maddening sounds, vibrations around her during 
twelve hours of the day, vibrations which mean that 
her food is being gained by each pulse of the engine 
and its ratio marked off by the disk at her side. 
Before her the scene is unchanged day after day, 
month after month, year after year. It is not an 
experience to this woman who works beside me so 
patiently; it is her life. The forms she sees are 
warped and scarred; the intellects with which she 
comes in contact are dulled and undeveloped. All 
they know is toil, all they know of gain is a fluctua- 
tion in a wage that ranges from cents to a dollar and 
cents again, never touching a two-dollar mark. The 
children who, barefooted, filthy, brush past her, 
sweeping the cotton from the infected floors, these 
are the only forms of childhood she has ever seen. 
The dirty women around her, low-browed, sensual, 
are the forms of womanhood that she knows ; and the 
men ? If she does not feed the passion of the overseer, 
she may find some mill-hand who will contract a "mill 
marriage" with this daughter of the loom, a marriage 
little binding to him and which will give her children 
to give in time to the mill. This is the realism of her 
love story: She reads books that you, too, may 
have read; she dares to dream of scenes, to picture 
them scenes that you have sought and wearied of. 
A tithe of our satiety would mean her banquet, her 
salvation ! . . . Her happiness ? That question 
who can answer for her or for you ?) 



THE SOUTHERN COTTON MILLS 265 

She continues: "I'm very fond of fo'ran travel, 
only I ain't never had much occasion for it." 

This pathos and humour keep me silent. A few 
ropers have run out; she rises. I rise, too, to 
replace, to attach, and set the exhausted line taut 
and complete again. 

Ten years ! Ten years ! All her girlhood and 
youth has been given to keeping ropers supplied with 
fresh yarn and speeders a-whirling. During this 
travail she has kept a serenity of expression, a depth 
of sweetness at which I marvel. Her voice is 
peculiarly soft and, coupled with the dialect drawl, 
is pleasant to hear. 

"I hate the mills !" she says simply. 

"What would you be if you could choose?*' I 
venture to ask. She has no hesitation in answering. 

"I'd love to be a trained nurse." Then, turn 
about is fair play in her mind, I suppose, for she asks : 

"What would you-all be?" 

And ashamed not to well repay her truthfulness I 
frankly respond: "I'd like to write a book." 

1 ' I dee-dare. ' ' She stares at me. " Why, you-all 
is ambitious. Did you ever write anything?" 

"A letter or two." 

She is interested and kindles, leaning forward. 
" I suttenly ain't so high in my ambitions," she says 
appreciatively. "Wish you'd write a love story for 
me to read," and she ponders over the idea, her eyes 
on my snowy flying speeders. 



266 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

"Look a-hyar, got any of your scrappin's on 
writin' hyar ? Ef you don't mind anybody's messin' 
with your things, bring your scrappin's to me an' I'll 
soon tell you ef you can write a book er not/' she 
whispered to me encouragingly, confidentially, a 
whisper reaching farther in the mills than a loud 
sound. 

I thanked her and said: "Do you think that 
you'd know?" 

"Well, I guess I would!" she said confidently. 
" I ain't read all my life sense I was eight years old 
not to know good writin' from bad. Can you-all 
sing?" 

"No." 

1 ' Play sweet music ? ' ' 

"No." 

" I jest love it." She enthuses. " Every Saturday 
afternoon I take of a music teacher on the gee-tar. 
It costs me a quarter." 

I could see the scene: a shanty room, the tall, 
awkward figure bending over her instrument; the 
type that the teacher made, the ambition, the 
eagerness all of which qualities we are so willing to 
deny to the slaves of toil. 

"They ain't much flowers here in Granton," she 
said again. " 'Tain't no use to try to have even 
a few geraneums; it's so dry; ain't no yards nor 
gardens, nuther." 

Musing on this desolation as she walks up and 



THE SOUTHERN COTTON MILLS 267 

down the line, she says: " I dew love flowers, don't 
you?" 

Over and over again I am asked by those whose 
wish I suppose is to prove to themselves and their 
consciences that the working-girl is not so actively 
wretched, her outcry is not so audible that we are 
forced to respond: 

"The working people are happy? The factory 
girls are happy, are they not ? Don't you find them 
so?" 

Is it a satisfaction to the leisure class, to the 
capitalist and employer, to feel that a woman poorly 
housed, ill-fed, in imminent moral danger, every 
temptation rampant over barriers down, over- 
worked, overstrained by labour varying from ten 
to thirteen hours a day, by all-night labour, and 
destruction of body and soul, is happy? 

Do you wish her to be so ? Is the existence ideal? 

I can speak only for the shoe manufacturing girl 
of Lynn and for the Southern mill-hand. 

I thank Heaven that I can say truthfully, that 
of all who came under my observation, not one who 
was of age to reflect was happy. I repeat, the 
working-woman is brave and courageous, but 
the most sane and hopeful indication for the future 
of the factory girl and the mill-hand is that 
she rebels, dreams of something better, and will 
in the fullness of time stretch toward it. They 



268 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

have no time to think, even if they knew how. 
All that remains for them in the few miserable 
hours of relief from labour and confinement and 
noise is to seek what pastime they may find under 
their hand. We have never realized, they have 
never known, that their great need given the work 
that is wrung from them and the degradation in 
which they are forced to live is a craving for 
amusement and relaxation. Amusements for this 
class are not provided; they can laugh, they rarely 
do. The thing that they seek let me repeat: I 
cannot repeat it too often in the minimum of 
time that remains to them, is distraction. They 
do not want to read; they do not want to study; 
they are too tired to concentrate. How can you 
expect it ? I heard a manufacturer say: "We gave 
our mill-hands everything that we could to elevate 
them a natatorium, a reading library and these 
halls fell into disuse." I ask him now, through 
these pages, the questions which I did not put to 
him then as I listened in silence to his complaint. 
He said he thought too much was done for the mill- 
hands. What time would he suggest that they 
should spend in the reading-room, even if they have 
learned to read? They rise at four; at a quarter 
before six they are at work. The day in winter is 
not born when they start their tasks ; the night has 
fallen long before they cease. In summer they are 
worked long into their evenings. They tell me that 



THE SOUTHERN COTTON MILLS 269 

they are too tired to eat ; that all they want to do is to 
turn their aching bones on to their miserable mat- 
tresses and sleep until they are cried and shrieked 
awake by the mill summons. Therefore they solve 
their own questions. Nothing is provided for them 
that they can use, and they turn to the only thing 
that is within their reach animal enjoyment, human 
intercourse and companionship. They are animals, 
as are their betters, and with it, let us believe, more 
excuse. 

The mill marriage is a farce, and yet they 
choose to call their unions now and again a marriage. 
Many a woman has been a wife several times in the 
same town, in the same house. The bond-tying is a 
form, and, of course, mostly ignored. The settle- 
ments swarm with illegitimate children. Next to 
me work two young girls, both under seventeen, 
both ringless and with child. 

Let me picture the Foster household, where I 
used to call Saturday evenings. 

Mrs. Foster herself, dirty, slipshod, a frowzy 
mass, hugs her fireside. Although the day is 
warm, she kindled a fire to stimulate the thin, 
poor blood exhausted by disease and fevers. Two 
flatirons lie in a dirty heap on the floor. As usual, 
the room is a nest of filth and untidiness. 

Mrs. Foster is half paralyzed, but her tongue is 
free. She talks fluently in her soft Southern drawl, 



270 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

more Negro than white as to speech and tone. Up 
to her sidles a dirty, pretty little boy of four. 

"This yere is too little to go to the mill, but he's 
wild to go ; yes, ser, he is so. Las' night he come to 
me en say, 'Auntie, you-all wake me up at fo' 'clock 
sure ; I got ter go ter the mill.' ' 

Here the little blond child, whose mouth is set on a 
pewter spoon dripping over with hominy, grins 
appreciatively. He throws back his white and 
delicate little face, and his aunt, drawing him close 
to her, caresses him and continues: "Yes, ma'am, 
to-day he dun wake up after they-all had gone and 
he sayd, 'My goodness, I dun oversleep mase'f ! ' 
He sha'n't go to the mill," she frowned, " not ef we 
can help it. Why, I don't never let him outen my 
sight; 'fraid lest those awful mill children would 
git at him." 

Thus she sheltered him with what care she knew 
care that unfortunately could not go far enough back 
to protect him! His mother came in at the noon 
hour, as we sat there rocking and chatting. She 
was a straight, slender creature, not without grace 
in her shirt-waist and her low-pulled felt hat that 
shadowed her sullen face. She was very young, 
not more than twenty-two, and her history indicative 
and tragic. With a word only and a nod she passes 
us ; she has now too many vital things and incidents 
in her own career to be curious regarding a strange 
mill-hand. She goes with her comrade and cousin 



THE SOUTHERN COTTON MILLS 271 

Mamie, into the kitchen to devour in as short a 
time as possible the noon dinner, served by the 
grandmother: cabbage and hominy. "They don't 
have time 'nough to eat," the aunt says; "no sooner 
then they-all come in and bolt their dinner then it is 
time to go back." Her child has followed her. 
Minnie was married at thirteen ; in less than a year 
she was a grass widow. "My goodness, there's lots 
of grass widows !" my frowsled hostess nods. "Why, 
in one weave-room hyar there ain't a gyrl but what's 
left by her husband. One day a new gyrl come for 
to run a loom and they yells out at her, 'Is you-all a 
grass widow ? Yer can't come in hyar ef you ain't.' ' 

But it was after her grass widowhood that Minnie's 
tragedy began. The mill was her ruin. So much 
grace and good looks could not go, cannot go, does 
not go unchallenged by the attentions of the men 
who are put there to run these women's work. The 
overseer was father of her child, and when she tried to 
force from him recognition and aid he threw over his 
position and left Columbia and this behind him. 
This, one instance under my own eyes observed. 
There are many. 

"Mamie works all night" (she spoke of the other 
girl) " makes more money. My, but she hates the 
mills ! Says she ain't ever known a restful minute 
sence she left the hills." 

My hostess has drawn the same conclusion from 
my Northern appearance that the Joneses drew. 



272 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

"You-all must eat good where you come from! 
you look so healthy. Do you-all know the Banks 
girl over to Calcutta?" 

"No." 

"They give her nine months." (Calcutta is the 
roughest settlement round here.) "Why, that gyrl 
wars her hair cut short, and she shoots and cuts like a 
man. She drew her knife on a man last week cut 
his face all up and into his side through his lung. 
Tried to pass as she was his wife, but when they had 
her up, ma'am, they proved she had been three 
men's wives and he four gyrl's husbands. He liked 
to died of the cut. They've given her nine months, 
but he ain't the only man that bears her marks. 
Over to Calcutta it's the knife and the gun at a 
wink. This yere was an awful pretty gyrl. My Min 
seed her peekin' out from behind the loom in the 
weave-room, thought she was a boy, and said : 'Who's 
that yere pretty boy peekin' at me?' And that 
gyrl told Min that she couldn't help knife the men, 
they all worried on her so ! 'Won't never leave me 
alone; I jest have to draw on 'em; there ain't no 
other way.' ' 

For the annals of morality and decency do not 
take up this faithful account and picture the cotton- 
mill village. You will not find it in these scenes 
drawn from the life as it is at this hour, as it is por- 
trayed by the words that the very people them- 
selves will pour into your ears. Under the walls of 



THE SOUTHERN COTTON MILLS 273 

Calcutta Negroes are engaged in laying prospective 
flower beds, so that the thirteen-hour workers may 
look out from time to time and see the forms of 
flowers. On the other side rise some twenty shanties. 
These houses of Calcutta village are very small, 
built from the roughest unpainted boards. Here 
it is, in this little settlement, that the knife comes 
flashing out at a word that the women shoot as 
well as men, and perhaps more quickly. 

" Richmond aint so bad as the other!" I can 
hear Mrs. Foster drawl out this recommendation to 
us. " They ain't so much chills here. We dun move 
up from town first ; had to too high rents for we-all ; 
now we dun stay hyar. Why, some of the gyrls and 
boys works to Granton and bo'ds hyar; seems like 
it's mo* healthy." 

Moving, ambulant population ! tramping from hill 
to hill, from sand-heap to sand-heap to escape the 
slow or quick death, to prolong the toiling, bitter 
existence pilgrims of eternal hope; born in the 
belief, in the sane and wholesome creed that, no 
matter what the horror is, no matter what the 
burden's weight must be, one must live! It takes a 
great deal to wake in these inexpressive, indifferent 
faces illumination of interest. At what should they 
rejoice? 

I have made the destitution of beauty clear. I 
believe there is an absolute lack of every form or 



274 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

sight that might inspire or cause a soul to awake. 
There is nothing to lift these people from the earth 
and from labour. There should be a complete 
readjustment of this system. I have been interested 
in reading in the New York Sun of April 2oth of the 
visit of the bishops to the model factories in Ohio. 
I am constrained to wish that bishops and clergy 
and philanthropists and millionaires and capitalists 
might visit in bodies and separately the mills of 
South Carolina and their tenement population. It 
is difficult to know just what the ideas are of the 
people who have constructed these dwellings. They 
tell us in this same prospectus, which I have read 
with interest after my personal experience, that these 
villages are ' ' picturesque. ' ' This is the only reference 
I find to the people and their conditions. I have 
seen nothing but horror, and yet I went into these 
places without prejudice, prepared to be interested 
in the industry of the Southern country, and with 
no idea of the tragedy and nudity of these people's 
existence. The ultimate balance is sure to come; 
meanwhile, we cannot but be sensible of the vast 
individual sacrifices that must fall to destruction 
before the scales swing even. 



THE CHILD IN SOUTHERN MILLS 



CHAPTER IX 
THE CHILD IN THE SOUTHERN MILLS 

IN the week before I left for the South I dined 

in with a very charming woman and her 

husband. Before a table exquisite in its appoint- 
ments, laden with the best the market could 
offer and good taste display, sat the mistress, a 
graceful, intelligent young woman, full of philan- 
thropic, charitable interests, and one whom I know 
to be devoted to the care and benefiting of little 
children in her city. During the meal I said to her 
casually : 

"Do you know that in your mills in South 
Carolina to-night, as we sit here, little children are 
working at the looms and frames little children, 
some of them not more than six years old ? " 

She said, in astonishment, "I don't know it; 
and I can't believe it." 

I told her I should soon see just how true the 
reports were, and when I returned to New York I 
would tell her the facts. She is not alone in her 
ignorance. Not one person, man or woman, to 
whom I told the facts of the cases I observed 
"dreamed that children worked in any mills in the 

277 



2 78 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

United States!" After my experience amongst the 
working class, I am safe in saying that I consider 
their grievances to be the outcome of the igno- 
rance and greed of the manufacturer abetted, 
aided and made possible by the ignorance and 
poverty of the labourer. 

There is nothing more conscience-silencing than 
to accuse the writers of the different articles on 
child-labour of sentimentality. The comfort in 
which we live makes it easy to eliminate thoughts 
that torture us to action in the cause of others. I 
will be delighted to meet an accusation of senti- 
mentality and exaggeration by any man or woman 
who has gone to a Southern mill as an operative and 
worked side by side with the children, lived with 
them in their homes. It is defamation to use the 
word "home" in connection with the unwholesome 
shanty in the pest-ridden district where the remnant 
of the children's lives not lived in the mill is passed. 
This handful . of unpainted huts, raised on stilts 
from the soil, fever-ridden and malarious ; this blank, 
ugly line of sun-blistered shanties, along a road, 
yellow-sand deep, is a mill village. The word 
village has a cheerful sound. It summons a country 
scene, with the charms of home, however simple 
and unpretentious. There is nothing to charm or 
please in the villages I have already, in these pages, 
drawn for you to see and which with veritable sick 
reluctance I summon again before your eyes. 



THE CHILD IN SOUTHERN MILLS 279 

Every house is like unto its neighbour a shelter 
put up rapidly and filled to the best advantage. 

There is not a garden within miles, not a flower, 
scarcely a tree. Arid, desolate, beauty less, the pale 
sand of the State of South Carolina nurtures as 
best it can a stray tree or shrub no more. At 
the foot of the shanties' black line rises the cotton 
mill. New, enormous, sanitary ( ! ! ) . Its capital 
runs into millions; its prospectuses are pompous; 
its pay-roll mysterious. You will not be able to say 
how many of the fifteen hundred odd hands at 
work in this mill are adults, how many children. 
In the State of South Carolina there are statistics of 
neither births, marriages nor deaths. What can 
you expect of a mill village ! 

At 5:45 we have breakfasted the twelve of us 
who live in one small shanty, where we have slept, 
all five of us in one room, men to the right of the 
kitchen, women and children on the left. To leave 
the pestilence of foul air, the stench of that dwelling, 
is blessed, even if the stroke that summons is the 
mill whistle. 

As we troop to work in the dawn, we leave 
behind us the desert-like town; all day it drowses, 
haunted by a few figures of old age and infirmity 
but the mill is alive ! We have given up, in order 
to satisfy its appetite, all manner of flesh and blood, 
and the gentlest morsel between its merciless jaws 
is the little child. 



2 8o THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

So long as I am part of its food and triumph I 
will study the mill. 

Leaving the line of flashing, whirling spools, I 
lean against the green box full of cotton refuse and 
regard the giant room. 

It is a wonderful sight. The mill itself, a model 
of careful, well-considered building, has every facility 
for the best and most advantageous manufacture 
of textiles. The fine frames of the intricate "warp- 
ing," the well-placed frames of the "drawing-in" 
all along the window sides of the rooms ; then lines 
upon lines of spool frames. Great piles of stuff lie 
here and there in the room. It is early "all the 
yarn ain't come yet." Two children whose work 
has not been apportioned lie asleep against a cotton 
bale. The terrible noise, the grinding, whirling, 
pounding, the gigantic burr renders other senses 
keen. By my side works a little girl of eight. 
Her brutal face, already bespeaking knowledge of 
things childhood should ignore, is surrounded by a 
forest of yellow hair. She goes doggedly at her 
spools, grasping them sullenly. She walks well on 
her bare, filthy feet. Her hands and arms are no 
longer flesh colour, but resemble weather-roughened 
hide, ingrained with dirt. Around the tangle of 
her hair cotton threads and bits of lint make a 
sort of aureole. (Her nimbus of labour, if you 
will ! ) There is nothing saint-like in that face, nor 
in the loose-lipped mouth, whence exudes a black 



THE CHILD IN SOUTHERN MILLS 281 

stain of snuff as between her lips she turns the 
root she chews. 

" She's a mean girl," my little companion says; 
"we-all don't hev nothin' to say to her." 

"Why?" 

"Her maw hunts her to the mill; she don't want 
to go no, sir so she's mad most the time. " 

Thus she sets her dogged resistance in scowling 
black looks, in quick, frantic gestures and motions 
against the machinery that claims her impotent 
childhood. The nimbus around her furze of hair 
remains; there are other heads than saints there 
are martyrs ! Let the child wear her crown. 

Through the looms I catch sight of Upton's, my 
landlord's, little child. She is seven; so small that 
they have a box for her to stand upon. She is 
a pretty, frail, little thing, a spooler "a good 
spooler, tew!" Through the frames on the other 
side I can only see her fingers as they clutch at the 
flying spools ; her head is not high enough, even with 
the box, to be visible. Her hands are fairy hands, 
fine-boned, well-made, only they are so thin and 
dirty, and her nails claws; she would do well to 
have them cut. A nail can be torn from the finger, 
is torn from the finger frequently,* by this flying 

* In Huntsville, Alabama, a child of eight lost her index and 
middle fingers of the right hand in January, 1902. One doctor 
told me that he had amputated the fingers of more than a hun- 
dred babies. A merchant told me he had frequently seen chil- 
dren whose hands had been cut off by the machinery. American 
Federationist. 



282 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

spool. I go over to Upton's little girl. Her 
spindles are not thinner nor her spools whiter. 

" How old are you ? " 

"Ten." 

She looks six. It is impossible to know if what 
she says is true. The children are commanded both 
by parents and bosses to advance their ages when 
asked. 

"Tired?" 

She nods, without stopping. She is a " remarkable 
fine hand. " She makes forty cents a day. See the 
value of this labour to the manufacturer cheap, 
yet skilled; to the parent it represents $2.40 per 
week. 

I must not think that as I work beside them I will 
gain their confidence ! They have no time to talk. 
Indeed, conversation is not well looked upon by the 
bosses, and I soon see that unless I want to entail a 
sharp reproof for myself and them I must stick to 
my "side." And at noon I have no heart to take 
their leisure. At twelve o'clock, Minnie, a little 
spooler, scarcely higher than her spools, lifts her 
hands above her head and exclaims: " Thank God, 
there's the whistle!" I watched them disperse: 
some run like mad, always bareheaded, to fetch 
the dinner-pail for mother or father who work in 
the mill and who choose to spend these little legs 
and spare their own. It takes ten minutes to go, 
ten to return, and the little labourer has ten to 



THE CHILD IN SOUTHERN MILLS 283 

devote to its own food, which, half the time, he is 
too exhausted to eat. 

I watch the children crouch on the floor by the 
frames ; some fall asleep between the mouthfuls of 
food, and so lie asleep with food in their mouths until 
the overseer rouses them to their tasks again. Here 
and there totters a little child just learning to walk ; 
it runs and crawls the length of the mill. Mothers 
who have no one with whom to leave their babies 
bring them to the workshop, and their lives begin, 
continue and end in the horrible pandemonium. 

One little boy passes by with his broom; he is 
whistling. I look up at the cheery sound that 
pierces fresh but faint and natural above the 
machines' noise. His eyes are bright; his good 
spirits surprise me: here is an argument for my 
comfortable friends who wish to prove that the 
children ' ' are happy ! " I stop him. 

" You seem very jolly !" 

He grins. 

" How long have you been working?" 

" Two or three days." 

The gay creature has just begun his servitude 
and brings into the dreary monotony a flash of the 
spirit which should fill childhood. 

I think 'it will be granted that it takes a great deal 
to discourage and dishearten a child. The hope- 
fulness of the mill communities lies in just those 
elements that overwork in the adult and that child 



284 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

labour will ultimately destroy. When hope is gone 
in the adult he must wreak some vengeance on the 
bitter fate that has robbed him. There is no more 
tragic thing than the hopeless child. The adult who 
grows hopeless can affiliate with the malcontents 
and find in the insanity of anarchy what he calls 
revenge. 

It seems folly to insult the common sense of the 
public by asking them whether they think that 
thirteen hours a day, with a half to three-quarters 
of an hour for recreation at noon, or the same amount 
of night-work in a mill whose atmosphere is vile with 
odours, humid with unhealthfulness, filled with 
the particles of flying cotton, a pandemonium of 
noise and deafening roar, so deafening that the loss 
of hearing is frequent and the keenness of hearing 
always dulled . . . whether the atmosphere 
combined with the association of men and women 
whose morals or lack of morals is notorious all over 
the world, is good for a growing child ? Is it con- 
ducive to progressive development, to the making 
of decent manhood or womanhood? What kind 
of citizen can this child if he is fit enough in the 
economic struggle of the world to survive turn 
out to be? Not citizens at all: creatures scarcely 
fit to be called human beings. 

I asked the little girl who teaches me to spool 
who the man is whom I have seen riding around 
on horseback through the town. 



THE CHILD IN SOUTHERN MILLS 285 

"Why, lie goes roun' rousin' up the hands who 
ain't in their places. Sometimes he takes the 
children outen thayre bades an' brings 'em back 
to the mill." 

And if the child can stand, it spins and spools 
until it drops, till constitution rebels, and death, the 
only friend it has ever known, sets it free. 

Besides being spinners and spoolers, and occasion- 
ally weavers even, the children sweep the cotton- 
strewed floors. Scarcely has the miserable little 
object, ragged and odourous, passed me with his 
long broom, which he drags half-heartedly along, 
than the space he has swept up is cotton-strewn 
again. It settles with discouraging rapidity; it has 
also settled on the child's hair and clothes, and 
his eyelashes, and this atmosphere he breathes 
and fairly eats, until his lungs become diseased. 
Pneumonia fatal in nearly all cases here and 
lung fever had been a pestilence, "a regular plague," 
before I came. There were four cases in the village 
where I lived, and fever and ague, malaria and 
grippe did their parts. 

"Why, thar ain't never a haouse but's got some- 
body sick," my little teacher informed me in her 
soft Southern dialect. "I suttinly never did see a 
place like this for dyin' in winter time. I reckon 
et's funerals every day." 

Here is a little child, not more than seven years 
old. The land is a hot enough country, we will 



286 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

concede, but not a savage South Sea Island ! She 
has on one garment, if a tattered sacking dress 
can so be termed. Her bones are nearly through 
her skin, but her stomach is an unhealthy pouch, 
abnormal. She has dropsy. She works in a new 
mill in one of the largest mills in South Carolina. 
Here is a slender little boy a birch rod (good old 
simile) is not more slender, but the birch has the 
advantage: it is elastic it bends, has youth in it. 
This boy looks ninety. He is a dwarf; twelve years 
old, he appears seven, no more. He sweeps the 
cotton off the floor of "the baby mill." (How 
tenderly and proudly the owners speak of their 
brick and mortar.) He sweeps the cotton and lint 
from the mill aisles from 6 P. M. to 6 A. M. without a 
break in the night's routine. He stops of his own 
accord, however, to cough and expectorate he has 
advanced tuberculosis. 

At night the shanties receive us. On a pine board 
is spread our food can you call it nourishment? 
The hominy and molasses is the best part ; salt pork 
and ham are the strong victuals. 

It is eight o'clock when the children reach their 
homes later if the mill work is behindhand and 
they are kept over hours. They are usually beyond 
speech. They fall asleep at the table, on the stairs ; 
they are carried to bed and there laid down as 
they are, unwashed, undressed; and the inanimate 
bundles of rags so lie until the mill summons them 



THE CHILD IN SOUTHERN MILLS 287 

with its imperious cry before sunrise, while they are 
still in stupid sleep. 

"What do you do on Sundays?" I asked one little 
girl. 

"Why, thare ain't nothing much to dew. I go to 
the park sometimes." 

This park is at the end of a trolley line ; it is their 
Arcadia. Picture it ! A few yellow sand hills with 
clusters of pine trees and some scrubby under- 
growth; a more desolate, arid, gloomy pleasure 
ground cannot be conceived. On Sundays the 
trolleys bring those who are not too tired to so spend 
the day. On Sundays the mill shanties are full of 
sleepers. 

The park has a limited number of devotees. 
Through the beautyless paths and walks the 
figures pass like shadows. There come three mill 
girls arm in arm; their curl papers, screwed tight 
all the week, are out on Sunday, in greasy, abundant 
curls. Sunday clothes are displayed in all their 
superbness. Three or four young men, town fellows, 
follow them ; they are all strangers, but they will go 
home arm in arm. 

Several little children, who have no clothes but 
those they wear, cling close to the side of a gaunt, 
pale-faced man, who carries in his arms the youngest. 
The little girl has become a weight to be carried on 
Sundays ; she has worked six days of the week 
shall she not rest on the seventh? She shall; she 



288 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

claims this, and lies inert on the man's arm, her 
face already seared with the scars of toil. 

I ran such risk taking pictures that I relinquished 
the task, and it was only the last day at the mill, 
while still in my working clothes with a camera 
concealed in my pocket, that I contrived to get a 
picture or two. I ventured to ask two little boys 
who swept the mill to stand for their pictures. 

"I don't kyar to," the older one said. I explained * 
that it would not hurt them, as I thought he was 
afraid; but his little companion vouchsafed: "We-all 
ain't got no nickel." When they understood it was 
a free picture they were as delighted as possible and 
posed with alacrity, making touching apologies for 
their greasy, dirty condition. 

When I asked one of them if he was ever clean, 
he said: "On Sunday I wash my hands." 

It was noon, on the day I chose to leave - , 
turning my back on the mill that had allured me to 
its doors and labour. In South Carolina early 
April is torrid, flies and mosquitoes are rampant. 
What must this settlement be in midsummer heat ? 
There is no colour in the Southern scene ; the clothes 
of the mill-hands, the houses, the soil are of one 
tone and, more strange, there is not one line of 
red, one dash of life, in the faces of the hundreds of 
women and children that pass me on. their way back 
to work. 

Under the existing circumstances they have no 



THE CHILD IN SOUTHERN MILLS 289 

outlook, these people, no hope; their appearance 
expresses accurately the changeless routine of an 
existence devoted to eternal ignorance, eternal toil. 

From their short half -hour of mid-noon rest, the 
whistle, piercing, inanimate call, has dared to com- 
mand the slavish obedience of animate and intelli- 
gent beings. I pause by the trestle over which 
rumble the cars, heavily laden with the cotton cloth 
whose perfection has made this Southern mill justly 
famous. 

The file of humanity that passes me I shall never 
forget! The Blank Mill claims 1,500 of these 
labourers; at least 200 are children. The little 
things run and keep step with the older men and 
women ; their shaggy, frowzled heads are bent, their 
hands protrude pitifully from their sleeves ; they are 
barefooted, bareheaded. With these little figures 
the elements wanton; they can never know the 
fullness of summer or the proper maturity of autumn. 
Suns have burned them, rains have fallen upon 
them, as unprotected through storms they go to 
their work. The winter winds have penetrated 
the tatters with blades like knives ; gray and dusty 
and earth-coloured the line passes. These are 
children? No, they are wraiths of childhood 
they are effigies of youth ! What can Hope work 
in this down-trodden soil for any future harvest? 
They can curse and swear; they chew tobacco and 
take snuff. When they speak at all their voices 



THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

are feeble ; ears long dulled by the thunder of the mill 
are no longer keen to sound; their speech is low 
and scarcely audible. Over sallow cheeks where the 
skin is tightly drawn their eyes regard you suspi- 
ciously, malignantly even, never with the frank look 
of childhood. As the long afternoon goes by in its 
hours of leisure for us fatigue settles like a blight 
over their features, their expressions darken to 
elfish strangeness, whilst sullen lines, never to be 
eradicated, mark the distinctive visages of these 
children of labour. 

At certain seasons of the year they actually die 
off like flies. They fall subject, not to children's 
diseases exactly nothing really natural seems to 
come into the course of these little existences- 
they fall a prey to the maladies that are the out- 
comes of their conditions. They are always half- 
clad in the winter time ; their clothes differ nothing 
at all from their summer clothes; they have no 
overcoats or coats; many of them go barefoot all 
winter long. They come out from the hot mills 
into cold, raw winds and fall an easy prey to pneu- 
monia, scourge of the mill-town. Their general 
health is bad all the year round; their skins and 
complexions have taken the tone of the sandy soil 
of the Southern country in which they are bred 
and in which their martyrdom is accomplished. I 
never saw a rosy cheek nor a clear skin: these 
are the parchment editions of childhood on which 



THE CHILD IN SOUTHERN MILLS 291 

Tragedy is written indelibly. You can there read 
the eternal condemnation of those who have 
employed them for the sake of gain. 

It is a melancholy satisfaction to believe that 
mill labour will kill off little spinners and spoolers. 
Unfortunately, this is not entirely true. There are 
constitutions that survive all the horrors of exist- 
ence. I have worked both in Massachusetts and 
the South beside women who entered the mill service 
at eight years of age. One of these was still in her 
girlhood when I knew her. She was very strong, ' 
very good and still had some illusions left. I do not 
know what it goes to prove, when I say that at 
twenty, in spite of twelve years of labour, she still 
dreamed, still hoped, still longed and prayed for 
something that was not a mill. If this means 
content in servitude, if this means that the poor 
white trash are born slaves, or if, on the contrary, 
it means that there is something inherent in a woman 
that will carry her past suicide and past idiocy and 
degradation, all of which is around her, I think it 
argues well for the working women. 

The other woman was forty. She had no illusions 
left please remember she had worked since eight ; 
she had reached, if you like, the idiot stage. She 
had nothing to offer during all the time I knew her 
but a few sentences directly in connection with 
her toil. 

It is useless to advance the plea that spooling is 



2 9 2 THE <WOMAN WHO TOILS 

not difficult. No child (we will cancel under 
twelve !) should work at all. No human creature 
should work thirteen hours a day. No baby of 
six, seven or eight should be seen in the mills. 

It is also useless to say that these children tell you 
that they "like the mill." They are beaten by 
their parents if they do not tell you this, and, 
granted that they do not like their servitude, when 
was it thought expedient that a child should direct 
its existence? If they do not pass the early years 
of their lives in study, when should they learn ? At 
what period of their lives should the children of the 
Southern mill-hand be educated? Long before 
they reach their teens their habits are formed 
ignorance is ingrained ; indeed, after a few years they 
are so vitally reduced that if you will you cannot 
teach them. Are these little American children, 
then, to have no books but labour ? No recreation ? 
To be crushed out of life to satisfy the ignorance 
and greed of their parents, the greed of the 
manufacturers? Whatever else we are, we are 
financiers per se. The fact that to-day, as for years 
past, Southern cotton mills are employing the 
labour of children under tender age employing an 
army of them to the number of twenty thousand 
under twelve can only be explained by a frank 
admittal that infantile labour has been considered 
advantageous to the cause of gain. 

This gain, apparent by the facts that a mill can be 



THE CHILD IN SOUTHERN MILLS 293 

run for thousands of dollars less in the South than a 
like mill can be run in the North, and its net surplus 
profits be the same as those of the Northern manu- 
factory, is one by which one generation alone will 
profit. The attractiveness of the figures is fallacious. 
What I imply is self-evident. The infant popula- 
tion (its numbers give it a right to this dignity of 
term) whose cheap toil feeds the mills is doomed. I 
mean to say that the rank and file of humanity are 
daily weeded out ; that thousands of possibly strong, 
healthy, mature labouring men and women are 
being disease-stricken, hounded out of life; the 
cotton mill child cannot develop to the strong 
normal adult working-man and woman. The fiber 
exhausted in the young body cannot be recreated. 
Early death carries hundreds out of life, disease rots 
the remainder, and the dulled maturity attained by 
a creature whose life has been passed in this labour 
is not fit to propagate the species. 

The excessively low wages paid these little mill- 
hands keep under, of necessity, the wage paid the 
grown labourer. It is a crying pity that children 
are equal to the task imposed upon them. It is a 
crying pity that machines (since they have appeared, 
with their extended, all-absorbing power) should 
not do all ! Particularly in the Southern States do 
they evince, at a fatal point, their limit, display 
their inadequacy. When babies can be employed 
successfully for thirteen hours out of the twenty- 



294 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

four at all machines with men and women; when 
infants feeds mechanism with labour that has not 
one elevating, humanizing effect upon them physi- 
cally or mentally, it places human intelligence below 
par and cheapens and distorts the nobler forms of 
toil. Not only is it "no disgrace to work," but on 
the contrary it is a splendid thing to be able to 
labour, and those who gain their bread by the sweat 
of their brow are not the servants of mankind in the 
sense of the term, but the patriarchs and controllers 
of the world's march and the most subtle signs 
of the times. But there are distinctly fitnesses of 
labour, and the proper presentation to the working- 
man and woman and child is a consideration. 

No one to-day would be likely for an instant to 
concede that to replace the treadmill horse with a 
child (a thing often seen and practised in times past) 
would be an advantage. And yet the march of the 
child up and down before its spooling frame is more 
suggestive of an animal of the dog hitched to the 
Belgian milk cart; of the horse on the mill-tread 
than another analogy. 

Contrast this pallid automaton with the children 
of the poor in a New York kindergarten, where the 
six- or seven-year-old child of the German, the 
Hungarian, the Polish emigrant, may have its 
imagination stimulated, its creative and individual 
faculties employed as it is taught to make things 
construct, combine, weave, sew, mould. Every 



THE CHILD IN SOUTHERN MILLS 295 

power latent is cajoled to expression, every talent 
encouraged. Thus work in its first form is rendered 
attractive, and youth and individuality are encour- 
aged. In the South of this American country 
whose signet is individualism, whose strength 
(despite our motto, "United we stand") is in the 
individual freedom and vast play of original thought, 
here in the South our purest born, the most unmixed 
blood of us, is being converted into machines of 
labour when the forms of little children are bound in 
youth to the spindle and loom. 

In a certain mill in Alabama there are seventy- 
five child-labourers who work twelve hours out of 
the twenty-four; they have a half -hour at noon for 
luncheon. There is a night school in connection 
with this mill corporation. Fancy it, a night school 
for the day-long child labourer ! Fifty out of 
seventy-five troop to it. Although they are so tired 
they cannot keep awake on the benches, and the 
littlest of them falls asleep over its letters, although 
they weep with fatigue, they are eager to learn ! 
Is there a more conclusive testimony to the quality 
of the material that is being lost to the States 
and the country by the martyrdom of intelligent 
children ? 

One hears two points of view expressed on this 
subject. The capitalist advances that the greed of 
the parents forces the children into the mills; the 
people themselves tell you that unless they are 



296 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

willing to let their available children work, their 
own lives are made impossible by the overseers. 
A widow who has children stands a fair chance of 
having her rent free; if she refuses this tithe of 
flesh and blood she is too often thrust into the 
street. So I am told. Now, which of these facts 
is the truth? It seems to be clearly too much left 
to the decision of private enterprise or parental 
incapability. The Legislature is the only school in 
which to decide the question. During my stay in 
South Carolina I never heard one woman advocate 
the mills for children. One mother, holding to her 
breast her illegitimate child, her face dark with dis- 
like, said: "Them mills / I would not let my little 
boy work in 'em ! No, sir ! He would go over my 
dead body." Another woman said : "My little girl 
work? No, ma'am; she goes to school!" and the 
child came in even as she spoke let me say the only 
cheerful specimen of childhood, with the exception 
of the few little creatures in the kindergarten, that 
I saw in the mill district. 

South Carolina has become very haughty on this 
topic and has reached a point when she tells us she 
is to cure the sore in "her own body without aid or 
interference. At a late session of the Legislature 
the bill for the restriction of child labour we must 
call it this, since it legislates only for the child 
under ten this bill was defeated by only two 
dissenting voices, A humane gentleman who laid 



THE CHILD IN SOUTHERN MILLS 297 

claim to one of these voices was heard to ejaculate as 
the bill failed to pass : "Thank God P ' Just why, it 
is not easy to understand. 

When I was so arrogant as to say to the editor of 
The State, the leading paper in South Carolina, that 
I hoped my article might aid the cause, I made an 
error clearly, for he replied : 

"We need no aid. The people of South Carolina 
are aroused to the horror and will cure it them- 
selves." 

Georgia is not roused to the horror; Alabama is 
stirring actively; but the Northerners who own 
these mills the capitalists, the manufacturers, the 
men who are building up a reputation for the 
wealth of South Carolina and Alabama mills, are 
the least aroused of all. We must believe that many 
directors of these mills are ignorant of the state of 
affairs, and that those who are enlightened willingly 
blind their eyes. 

The mill prospectuses are humourous when read 
by the investigator. We are told "labour-unions 
cut no figure here !" 

Go at night through the mills with the head of 
the Labour Federation and with the instigator of the 
first strikes in this district with men who are the 
brain and fiber of the labour organization, and see 
the friendly looks flash forth, see the understanding 
with which they are greeted all through certain 
mills. Consider that not 200 miles away at the 



298 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

moment are 22,000 labourers on strike. Then greet 
these statements with a smile ! 

On my return to the North I made an especial 
effort to see my New England friend. We lunched 
together this time, and at the end of the meal her 
three little children fluttered in to say a friendly 
word. I looked at them, jealous for their little 
defrauded fellows, whose twelve-hour daily labour 
served to purchase these exquisite clothes and to 
heap with dainties the table before us. But I was 
nevertheless rejoiced to see once again the forms of 
real childhood for whom air and freedom and wealth 
were doing blessed tasks. When we were alone I 
drew for my friend as well as I could pictures of what 
I had seen. She leaned forward, took a brandied 
cherry from the dish in front of her, ate it delicately 
and dipped her fingers in the finger-bowl; then she 
said: 

"Dear friend, I am going to surprise you very 
much." 

I waited, and felt that it would be difficult to 
surprise me with a tale of a Southern mill. 

"Those little children love the mill! They like 
to work. It's a great deal better for them to be 
employed than for them to run the streets !" 

She smiled over her argument, and I waited. 

"Do you know," she continued, "that I believe 
they are really very happy." 



THE CHILD IN SOUTHERN MILLS 299 

She had well presented her argument. She had 
said she would surprise me and she did. 

"You will not feel it a breach of affection and 
hospitality if I print what you say?" I asked her. 
"It's only fair that the capitalist's view should be 
given here and there first hand. You own one-half 
the mill in - , Carolina?" 

"Yes." 

"What do you think of a model mill with only 
nine hours a day labour, holidays and all nights 
free, schools, where education is enforced by the 
State; reading-rooms open as well as churches- 
amusement halls, music, recreation and pleasure, 
as well as education and religion ?" 

"I think," she said keenly, "that united, con- 
centrated action on the part of the cotton mill 
owners might make such a thing feasible; for us to 
try it alone would mean ruin." 

" Not ruin," I amended; " a reduction of income." 

"Ruin," she said, firing. "We couldn't compete. 
To compete," she said with the conviction of an 
intelligent, well-informed manufacturer, "I must 
have my sixty-six hours a week!" 

The spirit of discontent is always abroad when 
false conditions exist. Its restless presence is con- 
trolled by one spirit alone humanity when reason- 
ably are weighed and justly decided the questions 
of balance between Capital and Labour. 

We must believe that there is no unsolvable 



300 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

problem before us in considering the presence of 
the child in the Southern mills. 

There is nothing in the essence of the subject to 
discourage the social economist. The question 
should not be left to the decision of the private 
citizen. This stuff is worth saving. There is the 
making in these children of first-class citizens. I 
quote from the illustrated supplement of the South 
Carolina State that you may see what the mill 
manufacturers think of the quality of the "poor 
white trash": 

" The operatives in the South Carolina mills are the common 
people the bone and sinew who have left the fields to the 
Negroes. They are industrious, intelligent, frugal, and have 
the native instincts of honesty and integrity and of fidelity 
which are essential to good citizenship." 

If such things are true of the mill-hands of South 
Carolina, it is worth while to save their children. 



Henceforth, to my vision across the face of the 
modern history of labour and manufacture will 
eternally defile the gray, colourless column of the 
Southern mill - hands : an earth - hued line of 
humanity a stream that divides not. 

Here there are no stragglers. At noon and night 
the pace is quick, eager. Steady as a prison gang, 
it goes to food, rest and freedom. But this alacrity 
is absent in the morning. On the hem of night, the 
fringe of day, the march is slow and lifeless. Many 



THE CHILD IN SOUTHERN MILLS 301 

of the heads are bent and downcast ; some of the faces 
peer forward, and sallow masks of human counte- 
nances lift, with a look set beyond the mill toward 
who can say what vain horizon ! The Stream wan- 
ders slowly toward the Houses of Labour, although 
whipped by invisible scourge of Need. Without 
this incentive and spur, think you it would pursue 
a direction toward thirteen hours of toil, shut from air 
and sunlight and day, taking in its rank the women, 
the young girl and the little child ? 

The tone of the garments is somber and gray, 
blending with the gray of the dawn ; or red, blending 
with the earth stains of the peculiar Southern soil; 
or claylike and pale yellow. Many of the faces are 
pallid, some are tense, most of them are indifferent, 
dulled by toil and yet not all unintelligent. Those 
who are familiar with the healthy type of the decent 
workmen of the West and East must draw their 
distinctions as they consider this peculiar, unfamiliar 
class. The Southern mill-hand's face is unique a 
fearful type, whose perusal is not pleasant or 
cheerful to the character-reader, to the lover of 
humanity or to the prophet of the future. Thus they 
defile: men with felt hats drawn over their brows; 
women, sunbonneted or hatless; children barefoot, 
bareheaded, ragged, unwashed. Unwashed these 
labourers have gone to bed; unwashed they have 
arisen. To their garments cling the bits of cotton, 
the threads of cotton, the strands of roping, badge? 



302 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

of their trade, brand of their especial toil. As they 
pass over the red clay, over the pale yellow sand, the 
earth seems to claim them as part of her unchanging 
phase; cursed by the mandate primeval "by the 
sweat of thy brow" Earth-Born ! 

In the early morning the giant mill swallows its 
victims, engorges itself with entering humanity ; then 
it grows active, stirring its ponderous might to life, 
movement and sound. Hear it roar, shudder, 
shattering the stillness for half a mile ! It is full 
now of flesh and blood, of human life and brain and 
fiber: it is content! Triumphantly during the 
long, long hours it devours the tithe of body and 
soul. 

Behind lies the deserted, accursed village, desti- 
tute of life during the hours of day, condemned to the 
care of a few women, the old, the bedridden and the 
sick of which last there are plenty. 

Mighty Mills pride of the architect and the 
commercial magnate; charnel houses, devastators, 
destructors of homes and all that mankind calls 
hallowed ; breeders of strife, of strike, of immorality, 
of sedition and riot buildings tremendous you 
give your immutable faces, myriads-windowed, to the 
dust-heaps, to the wind-swept plains of sand. When 
South Carolina shall have taken from you (as its 
honour and wisdom and citizenship is bound to do) 
the youngest of the children, do you think that you 
shall inevitably continue to devour what remains? 



THE CHILD IN SOUTHERN MILLS 303 

There is too much resistance yet left in the mass of 
human beings. Youth will then rebel at a servitude 
beginning at ten years of age: and the women will lift 
their arms above their heads one day in desperate 
gesture of appeal and cry out not for the million- 
aire's surplus; not a tirade anarchistic against 
capital. . . . What is this woman of the hills 
and woman of the mills that she should so demand ? 
She will call for hours short enough to permit her to 
bear her children; for requital commensurate with 
the exigence of progressive civilization; for wages 
equal to her faithful toil. 

This is not too fantastic a demand or too ideal a 
state to be divinely hoped for, believed in and 
brought to pass.* 

Not inapt here is the pagan idea of Nous, moving 
upon chaos, stirring the stagnant, unresponsive 
forces into motion ; agitating these forces into action ; 
the individual elements separate and go forth, each 
one on its definitely inspired mission. Some inevi- 
table hour shall see the universal agitation of the 
vast body known as the " labouring class. " For the 
welfare of the whole world, may it not come whilst 
they are so ignorant and so down-pressed. 

* Of the 21,000,000 spindles in the United States, the South 
has 6,000,000. $35,381,000 of Carolina's wealth is in cotton 
mills. 

NOTE. I have seen, in Aragon, Georgia, hope for the future 
of the mill-hands. Whe Aragon Cotton Mills are an improve- 



304 THE WOMAN WHO TOILS 

ment on the South Carolina Mills and are under the direct 
supervision of an owner whose sole God is not gain. Mr. Walcott 
is an agitator of the nine-hours-a-day movement ; he is opposed 
to Child Labour, and in all his relations with his hands he is 
humane and kindly. I look to the time when Aragon shall set a 
perfect pattern of what a mill-town should be. It is already 
quite the best I have seen. Its healthfulness is far above the 
average, and its situation most fortunate. 




194 



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